Chapter 1: Previously
Previously on Kyle XY Season 4 (Episode 7 Taking Steps):
From the warehouse camera view, the sandy haired man carried a blanket over and spread it out next to Jessi. He checked her pulse at her throat and then rolled her onto it and rolled up the blanket around her. He picked her up, putting her over his shoulder and walked out of the scene. From the external view, he appeared carrying a rolled up bundle and set it down behind the car. He opened the trunk, then picked the bundle up and put it in, closing the trunk lid afterward. He got into the driver seat and drove away.
Driving, Foss said, "My guess is that he is going to take 90 eastbound. That will get him out of the city fast. After he passes Issaquah it gets pretty rugged. I'm betting that's his goal. Kyle, her best chance would be if you could make contact with her again. Is that even possible?"
"Normally, it would be," Kyle assured him. "I'll try." He set the laptop aside and leaned back, closing his eyes.
When your house is quiet, it isn't really quiet. There are always hums and other noises that the electronic aids of modern life fill our world with. You ignore them, unless you pay attention, they are not there. But if you have a power failure and they all stop, you notice suddenly how starkly quiet your house has become. When I sought my connection to Jessi, I found that silence. There was nothing there. Not the quiet hum that I felt when she was deeply asleep. I found only that stark silence.
Kyle opened his eyes and looked at Foss with tears welling in them. He said, in deep despair, "Foss, I can't find her. She's gone. There's nothing there at all."
Chapter 2: On the Road
Foss said sharply, "Kyle, she's probably unconscious."
"I can sense her when she's asleep," Kyle shook his head. "There's nothing there," He repeated miserably.
"She was probably given a very strong sedative," Foss told him. "She could be in a very deep sleep. A deeper sleep state than you've encountered before." He continued firmly, "You can't give up. You have to hold on to hope. You have to keep trying."
Kyle took a couple of deep breaths and agreed, "All right." He closed his eyes and leaned back again.
Ian Grimes was driving the red Corvette down Interstate 90. He kept an eye on the speedometer which was just at the speed limit. He checked the rear view mirror once more and then took one of the 'burner' phones out of his pocket and pushed the programmed number. He punched the 'speakerphone' button and put the phone on the dashboard so he could talk while he drove -- WashingtonState prohibits hand held cell phone use while driving. This would not be the time to get pulled over for talking on a cell phone.
After two rings a voice said, "Yes?"
Grimes said, "Keels, I've got her."
"Is she dead?" Keels asked
"I hit her with a big enough trank dose to put down an elephant. Her pulse and respiration were really weak when I put her in the trunk of her car. She's probably gone by now."
"You should have made sure she was dead," Keels said.
"I didn't want to spend very long at the pickup site, or make a mess," Grimes said. "Don't worry. She isn't going to wake up. I'll be at the spot I've picked to put the body in a few minutes. If she's still breathing then, I'll finish it. It's an out of the way forested area. The grave will never be found."
"What about her car?" Keels asked.
"I'll stay in the woods until nightfall," Grimes told him. "After that I'm taking the car down to Portland to a place I know. They'll change all the identification and have it on a transport on its way overseas within twenty four hours."
"Wouldn't it be safer to destroy it?" Keels asked.
"Cars are hard to destroy without leaving traces, this way it will simply disappear. It's what they do every day," Grimes assured him. "I'm going to get ten grand for it. I had to ask for payment or it would look suspicious. Do you want to take it off my bill?"
"No, consider it a bonus," Keels said. "Just be careful, she's very dangerous."
"Not any more," Grimes said. "She's just a body to dispose of now."
"All right," Keels said, "Call after you've disposed of the car."
Grimes picked up the phone and pushed 'end call'. Then he rolled down the window and threw it firmly into the passing pavement where it shattered into hundreds of pieces scattered across the highway behind the red Corvette.
Once again, I closed my mind to the distractions around me and concentrated on finding the 'hum' that was my connection to Jessi. I had been focusing my attention ahead since that's where we thought she was, but I couldn't be certain. I widened the search, imagining my consciousness covering an ever widening circle around Declan's car. I put my energy into expanding that circle wider and wider, looking for the slightest hint of Jessi's presence. I could feel the effort draining me, but I pushed everything I had into it. I had to find Jessi, no matter what it cost me.
Foss looked across at Kyle. He was laying back, motionless, his face pale and sweat appearing on his forehead. Foss met Declan's eyes in the rear view mirror and shook his head, grimly.
"He's pouring his energy out," Foss said. "He can't take much more of this. We're going to have to stop him soon."
"What about Jessi?" Declan asked.
Foss shrugged hopelessly, his expression hard and grim.
Foss's words penetrated into my consciousness as if from far away. I could not give up on Jessi. I needed more power. The connection between us could be strengthened by emotion. I remembered the smile on Jessi's face, how her lips felt when we kissed and the comforting energy of having her lean on my shoulder. I remembered the tingling of my skin as it touched hers in the tub. I remembered the sight of her in the pale moonlight. All those memories and feelings boosted the strength of my search. Even with all that power, I almost missed it -- a very faint 'hum' in front of us. I refocused the energy from the circle and aimed it all in the direction of that 'hum', sending the simple call, "Jessi".
"Jessi," Kyle whispered as he lay, motionless, in the seat.
Foss looked at Kyle. He was very pale and sweaty, as if in a fever. Foss's grip on the steering wheel tightened, the tips of his fingers whitening, his expression was grim.
Very faintly, the answer to my call came back, "Kyle?" An enormous feeling of relief flooded through me restoring some of my strength. We were connected again, but very weakly.
I sent the message, "Jessi, my love, I found you."
The response came, slowly, with a sense of wonder and joy, "Kyle ... Am I your love?"
"Of course you are, stay with me," was my response.
Her response was, "Always". Holding onto that connection as firmly as I could, I diverted a small amount of my attention to relay the news to Foss.
"I found her," Kyle whispered, his eyes still closed.
Foss looked over at him, "Can you tell the direction?"
In response, Kyle slowly raised his hand, as with an effort, and pointed ahead down the road.
Foss told him, "Keep pointing toward her. I am going to use you as a compass."
Kyle didn't give any response but his finger continued to point ahead on I 90.
Foss breathed a sigh of relief and his grip on the wheel loosened. At the same time his foot pressed slightly farther on the pedal and the SUV accelerated. His eyes glistened.
Sending messages required concentration and I had drained myself looking for her. I could tell she had very little to spare, herself. I sent one more message, "We are coming, just hold on to me." I concentrated my effort on keeping the connection open. I felt it strengthening, either through our joint efforts, Jessi gaining strength, or the distance between us narrowing. I had the connection back. I was not going to lose it again.
Grimes saw his exit coming up and slowed the Corvette, exiting the Interstate on route 18 south. He headed away from the interstate, into forested areas.
From the back seat, Declan spoke quietly, trying not to distract Kyle, "How are we going to be able to catch him?"
Foss responded, "In a stolen car, with Jessi in his trunk, he's going to be very careful about the speed limit. I'm pushing it as much as I dare. We should be able to gain on him. As long as Kyle can keep track of her we should eventually catch him."
As he drove, Foss kept an eye on Kyle. His color was looking slightly better. He noticed Kyle's finger start to move toward the right, away from the freeway.
"I think he may have exited," Foss warned. "Look for an exit."
I could hear what was being said but faintly. I concentrated on maintaining my connection to Jessi. Sending her all the strength and love I could gather. I kept my finger pointed in the direction I sensed her. I knew Foss was counting on it. And Jessi was counting on me.
As Kyle's finger pointed more to the right of the car, Foss saw the sign for the exit for route 18. "It looks like it might be route 18," he said. The sideways motion of Kyle's finger increased and Foss decided, "That's the one, I'm getting off. " He exited the Interstate on highway 18 and Kyle's finger shifted to point toward the front of the vehicle once more.
"He's probably going to take one of these side roads into the woods," Foss commented. He handed the laptop back to Declan, "Call up a map, we may need to navigate."
Grimes slowed the Corvette and turned off of route 18 onto a small access road. It immediately split. He took the path to the right, took a tight hair pin turn, and headed up the hill. He went about a mile up the access road and then pulled off to the right, parking the Corvette behind some brush he had found. As he got out, he looked back at the road and nodded with satisfaction. He opened the trunk and got the wrapped body out. He threw it over his shoulder and carried it into the woods.
In Declan's car, Foss split his attention between the road and watching Kyle's finger as it started to diverge from the road he said, "I think he's turned off."
Declan said from the back of the seat. "There's a turnoff just ahead. It splits into two paths."
"Terrific," Foss said sarcastically. "I hope they get good separation. Kyle's finger isn't a precise navigation tool."
"They separate fairly well," Declan told him. "The right one goes right for a short distance and then has a hair pin turn and heads away from 18 on a mostly straight path bearing back to the left. The left one continues sharply toward the left.
"Here it is," Foss said. He turned the SUV onto the side road and watched Kyle's finger point slightly left of straight ahead. "The right one it is."
Declan said, "There are no turn offs for quite a while."
"This is probably it, then," Foss told him. "Get ready."
Declan pulled his gun case from under the driver's seat. He opened it and loaded a clip into the Glock and put it in his right pocket. He put two more in his left.
Kyle's finger suddenly pointed to the right and Foss immediately pulled off the road onto what was little more than a trail. After a hundred feet they came past some brush and saw a red Corvette.
"Here it is," Foss said. He stopped the car and commanded, "Let's go." He got out, taking his gun from his pocket. Declan did as well. Kyle opened his eyes and got out, his legs were shaky. Foss looked at the empty car and shouted, "Kyle, which way."
Kyle closed his eyes once more and pointed toward a trail to the right. Foss started running down the trail with Declan closely following. Kyle stumbled along behind.
Chapter 3: In the Woods
Grimes reached the small clearing and went to the center of it before putting the bundle down on the ground. He looked around and said in the direction of the bundle, "Not a bad place to rest. It will be peaceful here." He unrolled the blanket and uncovered Jessi's face. She lay pale and unmoving. He put his finger at the side of her neck to check her pulse.
"You should have been gone by now," Grimes said, frowning. "You're a lot stronger than I thought. Keels' information may not have been so fantastic after all." He took his gun out of his pocket and sighed, "I guess we have to do this the messy way."
As he entered the clearing, Foss fired on the run. His first shot missed but caused Grimes to turn toward him raising his gun. Foss's next three, still fired on the run, hit the center of Grimes' chest and he went down. Foss reached him and kicked Grimes's gun away from where it had landed. He aimed to fire again and then realized it was unnecessary. He dropped to one knee and reached down to put a finger at the side of Jessi's throat. He took a ragged breath and concentrated. After a moment, he breathed a sigh of profound relief and then turned to look at Grimes.
Declan, running behind him, had not fired. He reached Grimes' body and looked at the bloody mess that had been his chest. He staggered off to the side and vomited. Foss watched him out of the corner of his eye with a grim smile.
Kyle stumbled last into the clearing with a cry, "Jessi".
"She's all right, Kyle," Foss assured him.
Kyle fell to his knees beside her and cradled her head, "Jessi, I love you." He said, tears running down his cheeks.
Jessi's eyes came slowly open and focused with effort on him. She visibly took a breath and weakly said, "I love you too, Kyle."
Foss asked, "Kyle how is she? You can do a better job of assessing her condition than I can."
I used my skills to check on Jessi. Her heart was beating steadily, her breathing normal but slow, I could tell that she was very weak. But she was alive, and well. And she was looking up at me with a wonderful smile on her face.
"She's wonderful, Foss," Kyle said, and then added, more clinically, "Her heart rate is strong and breathing normal. She's going to be all right."
"That's good news. You take care of her, Kyle," Foss told him. "Declan and I will take care of this." He pointed to Grimes. He looked at Declan and asked, "Are you finished?"
Declan was embarrassed, "I'm sorry, Foss."
"Don't worry about it. You aren't the only person to have that reaction to your first combat fatality. And after the adrenaline of battle, the release can be overwhelming." He took Grimes' wallet out and looked at it, reading aloud, "Ian Grimes, if that's his real id." He set the wallet aside and kept looking. He found the dart gun and looked at it, commenting "It's a common tranquilizer, a pretty large dose."
Declan asked, "Will she be all right?"
"She's past the worst of it," Foss assured him. "It should have killed her outright but she and Kyle have strong physiologies. It'll probably take hours for her body to process it all, though." He dug through Grimes' pockets, getting out a set of car keys. He held them up, "These are Jessi's. You're going to have to drive her car back." He tossed them to Declan who caught them and put them in his pocket.
"What are we going to do with him?" Declan gestured toward the body.
Foss pointed to a shovel leaning against a tree. He said, "It looks like he provided us with a shovel. Too bad he didn't do the digging too. I'll show you how to bury a body if you don't want it found."
"Do we have the time to dig?" Declan asked, looking at Jessi lying with her head in Kyle's lap.
"I think so," Foss nodded. He turned to Kyle and said, "Kyle, let me know immediately if she shows any signs of distress." Kyle looked up and nodded. Foss walked over, picked up the shovel, selected a spot and dug a shovel full, setting it aside. "The ground is soft, this won't take long." He looked around at the scenery and commented "It's a pretty spot, better than he deserves."
Foss and Declan took turns digging in the soft earth. When Declan was digging, Foss would check on Kyle and Jessi. Kyle was sitting, holding Jessi's head in his lap, the blanket wound around her for warmth. He was stroking her hair while she dozed.
After about forty minutes, Foss announced, "It's a little more than four feet. I'd like to get the full six but we need to get them home." He dragged Grimes' body over to the side of the grave and said, "Give me a hand." Declan helped him put Grimes in and Foss arranged the body.
It only took a few minutes to fill the grave. After they were finished, Foss spread leaves and sticks around the site. He commented, "You want to try to make the grave site indistinguishable from the surrounding area. He stood looking at the scene. "That should do it. I don't think there's anything to call attention to the spot."
Declan asked hesitantly, "Should we say something?" Foss gave him a look of astonishment. Declan explained, "I've never buried anyone before. I don't know what you're supposed to do."
Foss nodded, "If he was a friend, I would probably say goodbye. For this guy, I think 'good riddance' is the best I can come up with." He shrugged, "If you want to say something, go ahead. I'm going to gather our stuff up."
Declan stood a moment looking at the ground where he had just helped bury a man and finally shook his head, "I guess 'good riddance' is all I can come up with myself."
He rejoined Foss who told him, "I've collected the guns and the rest of our stuff and picked up my brass. Let's get these two to the cars. You help Kyle and I'll carry Jessi." Foss picked up Jessi. Declan reached out his right hand and helped Kyle get to his feet. Foss said, "Keep your right arm free. Kyle should use the shovel as a crutch. We don't want to leave it here to make anyone curious." Declan nodded and supported Kyle with his left arm. Kyle used the shovel as well.
I had thought Foss's concerns about my being able to walk were unnecessary but when I tried to get up I realized just how tired I was. After the stress of the search I had been pouring what energy I had left into Jessi, helping her recover. Even with Declan's help, I could barely walk.
Foss commanded, "You lead the way. Keep your eyes open in case he had a friend."
"Do you think he did?" Declan asked, pulling his Glock out of his pocket.
"No, but I've made too many mistakes today already," Foss explained, holding Jessi tightly against his chest. "I don't want to make any more."
When they got to the cars, Declan helped Kyle into the back of the SUV and Foss stretched Jessi in the back seat, her head on Kyle's lap. They looked into each others eyes and kissed. Foss smiled, "Keep an eye on her, Kyle." He turned to Declan, "Follow me back to the Tragers, in case I need backup. I'll call them from the road and let them know what to expect."
"Shouldn't we take her to a hospital," Declan asked.
"She's past the worst of it. She just needs rest," Foss said. "I want them in an environment I can control. There are too many strangers in hospitals."
Foss got behind the wheel and retraced their route, with Declan following in Jessi's Corvette.
Chapter 4: Trager House
When they pulled up in front of the Trager house, Nicole and Stephen were standing in the doorway waiting with concerned expressions.
Foss started to pick up Jessi and she said, softly, "I think I can walk." He helped her get out of the car and supported her as they walked up the sidewalk to the doorway.
As he reached the door he said to the waiting Tragers, "She should lie down."
Nicole said, "Follow me." She led them toward Jessi's bedroom where Foss helped her into bed.
Jessi was looking back to make sure Kyle was with her, which he was. Declan was helping him walk. Kyle sat on the side of Jessi's bed, immediately reaching over to touch her.
Foss suggested, "Nicole, they could both use some glucose. Juice would be great, if you have any."
"I'll get some orange juice," she hurried out of the room.
Foss told them, "I want the two of you to drink what you can and then rest. I'm going to go and make sure that this guy was alone."
Kyle frowned at the thought, "Do you think he had an accomplice?"
"I'm sure he was alone, Kyle," Foss assured him. "I'm just going to make double sure."
Nicole came in with two glasses of orange juice and they both drank. Kyle drank fairly enthusiastically. Jessi drank with more effort. She was obviously still having a hard time controlling her movement.
After they had finished their glasses, and Nicole collected them, Jessi stretched out in her bed and reached out to Kyle who lay down beside her and wrapped his arms around her. She put her head in his chest and closed her eyes to sleep. He kissed the top of her head, and lay there holding her protectively, his eyes closed.
Foss indicated the doorway and everyone went into the kitchen leaving the two of them to rest.
Nicole asked, "Are you sure they don't need to be in a hospital."
"They're recovering well," Foss assured her. "Jessi's body has to process the tranquilizer, she was given a massive dose, and Kyle has spent a tremendous amount of energy. They both need rest. When they wake up, I suggest carbohydrates."
"I can make spaghetti," Nicole offered.
"That would be good." Foss looked at Stephen, "I think that the guy was acting alone, but I don't want to take that for granted. I'm going to go do some research to see if I can verify that. I don't think it would be a good idea for anyone in your family to leave the house until I do." At Nicole's expression of concern he told her, "It should only take a few hours. I just want to be sure."
"We'll wait to hear from you," Stephen agreed.
Foss continued, "One more thing, I would like to leave Declan here to watch over them and you until I give the all clear. Would that be all right?" Nicole nodded and he turned to Declan, "I think the dining room table with a view out the front, covering the front door would be best. All right?"
"Yes, sir," Declan said, drawing a surprised look from Nicole.
Foss said, "I'm going to take your car, mine's still at the warehouse," a statement and a question. Declan nodded his assent. Foss continued, "Stay here until I get back." Declan nodded once more. Foss turned back to the Tragers, "All right, I'll be back soon." Noting Nicole's concerned expression, he added, "Don't worry, they're going to be fine. Everything is going to be fine, I just want to dot my i's and cross my t's."
Stephen said earnestly, "Thank you, Foss."
Foss nodded embarrassedly and left.
Nicole turned to Declan and asked, "Would you like something to drink, Declan?"
Declan said, "Some coffee would be great, Mrs. Trager. I could use the caffeine." He went into the dining room and sat in the spot that Foss had indicated. He pulled his Glock out of his pocket and set it down on the table within easy reach of his right hand.
Nicole brought in his cup of coffee and set it down staring in stark dismay at the gun resting on her dining room table. She opened her mouth as if to say something and then closed it and left him to drink his coffee.
After a few minutes, Lori appeared and said, "Mom and Dad let Josh and me out of our rooms." Declan raised an eyebrow and she explained, "When Foss called, they asked us to stay out of the way until Jessi and Kyle got settled. They've told us the situation. So you're our bodyguard?" She smiled, "Can I sit with you?" She started to sit across from him.
Declan pointed to the chair to his left and asked, "Please don't sit between me and the door."
Lori raised an eyebrow and sat in the chair at Declan's left. She pointed at his gun and asked, "Is that thing loaded?"
"It wouldn't be any good if it weren't," Declan answered. Then he said somewhat bitterly, "It wasn't much good anyway." Noting Lori's puzzlement he explained, "When Foss shot the guy, I had my gun out, but I didn't do anything. I just stood there."
"Foss shot a guy?" Lori asked incredulously.
"Yes, the guy who was going to kill Jessi," Declan said. He looked puzzled and asked, "What did your parents tell you?"
"Nothing about anyone being shot, they did say that someone had tried to kidnap Jessi," Lori said. She added with dawning horror, "He was going to kill her?"
"That was his plan. He pumped her full of tranquilizers to kidnap her and was about to shoot her, when Foss killed him." He looked at Lori with a troubled expression, "I've never seen anyone killed before, Lori. I hadn't even seen a dead body before, except my grandfather at a funeral home." He shook his head and continued, "I practiced and practiced, but when it came to the real thing, I did nothing."
"Foss was there," Lori said.
"And a good thing he was," Declan said bitterly. "If it had been up to me, Jessi would be dead now. I failed her."
Lori sat for a moment and suggested, "Maybe you just let him handle it because he was there."
Declan looked gratefully at her, "Maybe. But I know one thing. Even though Foss told me that this wasn't a game, I never believed that in my heart. I didn't really take it seriously. I will now."
Lori looked at him as if seeing a new person, which, perhaps, she was. She reached out to touch his arm and then pulled her hand back uncertainly. She finally asked, "Could I get you another cup of coffee?"
"That would be great," Declan told her, turning his head to look out the window and check the street once more.
The house was quiet and tense for the next few hours. Declan's presence and more specifically the Glock on the dining room table lent an air of crisis to everyone's mood. Kyle and Jessi slept, Lori could be heard playing her guitar in her room, Josh was on his computer. Stephen sat in the living room with his laptop and Nicole sat at the kitchen table with a journal and a cup of tea, glancing in Declan's direction from time to time and refilling his coffee and adding a plate of cookies.
She would also check on Jessi and Kyle. One time when she checked on them she saw that Kyle was awake. She whispered, "How is she?"
Kyle whispered back, "She's getting stronger. I think she'll be ready to wake up soon. We'll need to eat something."
"Foss recommended carbohydrates," Nicole told him, "I'm planning on making a big batch of spaghetti. I think we could all use comfort food."
Kyle looked down at Jessi's sleeping face and smiled. He looked back at Nicole and said, "Jessi likes mushrooms."
"Then she'll have mushrooms," Nicole promised.
Eventually there was a knock on the door and Stephen looked at Declan. From his position, Declan announced, "It's Foss."
Stephen opened the door and Foss came in. Nicole was coming from the kitchen so they naturally all met in the dining room.
Foss asked, "How are they?"
Nicole said, "They are still resting. I spoke with Kyle a short time ago and he said Jessi was about to wake up."
"Good. That's about what I expected," Foss said. "I've visited his hotel room and checked a number of other leads. There are no signs whatsoever of a second person. That's really what I expected. This type of operation is typically done by a lone wolf, but I had to be sure. I think that your family can go about life normally and Declan can stop haunting your dining room."
"I'm making a big batch of spaghetti," Nicole offered. "You are both welcome to stay."
"Thank you, but I want to get back to my base at Kesdet," Foss said. He looked at Declan and said, "Will you drive me to my car?"
"Sure," Declan said. He got up, removed the clip from his Glock and put it into his pocket. He opened the slide to check that the chamber was empty then put the gun into his pocket as well. Nicole watched his proficiency with the weapon with astonishment as if she, too, were seeing a new person.
Declan turned to Nicole and said, "Thank you for the cookies and coffee, Mrs. Trager."
"Thank you, Declan," Nicole said sincerely. "Thank you both."
Stephen held the door for them as Foss and Declan walked out to Declan's SUV. They watched the vehicle drive away and then Stephen closed the door and turned to Nicole.
"Finally, we can get back to normal," Nicole said.
"Are you sure, Nicole," Stephen shook his head. "I thought this type of thing was no longer a danger. We have to talk to Kyle and Jessi about this."
"That's a problem for another day," Nicole cautioned him. "Let's just get some food into them tonight"
A short time later, Kyle led a pale looking Jessi out of her bedroom. They both looked tired and shaky. Everyone gathered around the table for dinner. Jessi smiled with gratitude as everyone told her how happy they were that she was home and safe. When Nicole set the big bowl of spaghetti with mushrooms in front of her, her face crumpled up in tears.
Nicole, surprised, said, "Jessi, what's wrong, honey."
"Nothing Nicole, nothing is wrong," Jessi said. She rubbed at her eyes and then explained to the concerned faces, "When I was at Madacorp and they were trying to take the Zzyzx data from my brain, they also were trying to implant a false memory, my 'ideal life'." She looked around the table and said, "This is that life, sitting at this table with my family and you feeding me spaghetti with mushrooms. I have it and it's all real, not fake."
Nicole put her arm around Jessi and kissed her on the cheek, saying, "This is your family. I'll be glad to make you spaghetti with mushrooms any time you like."
Jessi smiled at her and said, "But this is better than the Madacorp fake, I also have Kyle."
Kyle smiled at her and said, "Yes you do."
Chapter 5: Trager Breakfast
The next morning, Jessi had declared that she was making pancakes and so she stood in the kitchen building a big pile of golden cakes for the family.
"You don't have to do this, Jessi," Nicole said. "I'm sure you're still very tired."
"I've mostly recovered, Nicole," Jessi said, "But as you said, we need carbohydrates and pancakes are an excellent source."
"Very excellent," Josh said, stuffing his mouth with some of her 'excellent carbohydrates'.
"I need carbohydrates too," Kyle said with a smile as he reached for another pancake.
As they were eating, Nicole broached the subject troubling her, "That was a terrible scare for us all yesterday. I know that guy is no longer going to be a problem, but is someone else going to show up? What are we going to do? I had hoped this was all over."
"We are going to take care of it, Nicole," Kyle assured her. He looked at Jessi with determination and said, "Aren't we?"
Jessi firmly said, "Yes."
Kyle explained, "I've talked to Foss and gotten all the information he could find about Ian Grimes -- the man who attacked Jessi. We should be able to use that to figure out who sent him, and deal with them."
Jessi looked meaningfully at Kyle, "Keels?"
"That's what I think," Kyle agreed. "He looks like he could be one of the mercenaries that Keels is paying to cause an insurrection."
"Who's Keels?" Stephen asked. "I don't think I've heard of him."
"He's one of the members of the Latnok board," Kyle explained.
"The Latnok board did this?" Nicole frowned. "But you're part of the Latnok board. I thought they had promised not to threaten your family."
"There are different groups within the board," Kyle explained. "We've been trying to separate them out. Many of the Latnok board members are good people and are willing to help us. There are several bad apples. Keels is probably the worst."
"So this Keels is working with Mercenaries and causing insurrections," Stephen frowned. "Why would he do that?"
"We've never talked to him," Kyle shrugged, "but apparently he has the theory that improvements will only come with tearing down old social structures with war. He doesn't care how many people suffer in the process."
"We think he was behind the use of Anthrax that was on the news," Jessi added. "There are over two thousand dead, many more sick and likely to die."
"Somebody should stop him," Stephen said with a trace of anger.
"Somebody is about to," Kyle promised, looking at Jessi, she smiled back in a manner reminiscent of when she was about to eviscerate Cassidy.
"Be careful," Nicole cautioned.
"I think we can do it all from my room," Kyle said.
"Do you have an idea?" Jessi asked.
"I think a falling out between thieves would do the trick," Kyle suggested.
Jessi smiled a conspiratorial smile, "That could work."
Nicole and Stephen exchanged glances. Nicole said, "I just want our family to be safe."
"So do I, Nicole," Jessi agreed. "I want our family to be safe."
"Bring your laptop to my room and we'll work together," Kyle told her.
Jessi said, "I'll get it."
"I'll bring some extra orange juice, we're probably both still dehydrated," Kyle said.
Chapter 6: Kyle's Room
They sat side by side in Kyle's room rapidly typing on their keyboards.
"I've got Grimes airline ticket," Jessi announced, "and where he came from."
Kyle glanced at her screen and nodded, "That's what we expected. I have him working with Colonel Kieferts. We've seen Kieferts before when we were investigating Keels. Can you get Kieferts' bank account? I'm going to try for his personal files."
A few minutes later, Jessi said, "I've got Kieferts' bank accounts open. Grimes has been on his payroll. This is leading me to his various operational facilities."
After another few minutes, Kyle said, "I've got his organizational files. There is verification that Grimes has worked with him in those as well. I would say that it's a solid link. Do you have anything solid to Keels?"
"Kieferts' bank has regular large deposits. I suspect that's Keels. Let me try to track them."
"I'm assembling a list of Kieferts' facilities and personnel. I think the National Security Force might be interested in that," Kyle said. "They should be able to shut the whole thing down pretty quickly with this information.
Jessi warned him, "I saw something in his bank accounts. I believe he is paying off someone in the National Security Force. Look at this."
Kyle glanced at her screen, and nodded, "I see, I'll add his mole to the top of the list and make sure he doesn't get copied."
Jessi said, "I've got Keels account open, he's definitely the source of the funding for Kieferts. I'm also seeing some interesting transfers to another account around the time the Anthrax appeared. Let me follow that."
"All right," Kyle agreed. "I'm searching records on the National Security Force to find a few reliable people fairly high up. I want to make sure they take quick action. I don't want this to misfire."
"I got it," Jessi announced. "The money went to Paul Milworth's organization."
"That's probably the source of the Anthrax," Kyle suggested. "I think we can save that for the Latnok board meeting."
"You're not going to save Keels for the Latnok meeting?" Jessi asked.
"Not after yesterday," Kyle told her. "I'm taking him out." Kyle looked at Jessi and said firmly, "He doesn't get another chance."
"I agree," Jessi said. "I am surprised that you're willing to do it."
"I have to protect you."
"And I have to protect you," Jessi said. She warned, "Some of them will die as a result."
"It has to be done," Kyle said. "I'm ready to do this. Are you?"
"You know me," Jessi smiled grimly. "I'm not as squeamish as you. Do it."
Kyle typed rapidly then announced, "The information on Kieferts' organization has been transmitted to the contacts I selected in the National Security Force."
Jessi suggested, "They've done a lot of damage, don't you think they should help correct some of it. Perhaps they would want to make donations to 'International Doctors'?"
"An excellent idea," Kyle agreed. "I think both Kieferts and Keels should give all they can."
Jessi typed rapidly and said, "Keiferts has just donated his entire account." She typed for another few seconds and added, "Keels was equally generous."
"That should take care of that," Kyle said. He drank the last of his orange juice and said, "Would you like to go down to The Rack for a smoothie."
"I would love to," Jessi smiled.
They say that the flapping wings of a butterfly can result in a hurricane on the other side of the planet. Everything is connected together. All of our actions have consequences, many of which we cannot predict with certainty. The quiet keystrokes we had made in my room in Seattle would translate into action on the other side of the planet. An ongoing war would be ended, a mercenary force broken up. Plans would fail. It would be likely that people would die as the result of what we had done. Could I live with that responsibility? People would continue to die if we did not act. And I needed to protect Jessi and my family. In the end, I did what I had to do to protect my soul mate.
Chapter 7: The Rack
The Rack in the late morning was relatively quiet. The morning rush was over and the lunch crowd wouldn't start for another hour. Amanda and Josh had cleaned up and were waiting for the next batch of customers.
Josh sauntered to where Andy sat at the end of the counter. She had her textbook open in front of her and a banana guava smoothie half drunk in front of her. He said "I thought you would be caught up on your homework by now. Or are you just using that book as a cover to watch my manly form."
"Do you think I would be so lame as to sit here and moon over you," Andy protested. "I still have a lot of homework to do. Ego much?"
"Well, I happened to look fifteen minutes ago and you were on that same page," Josh observed.
"Maybe I had to go back and check something," Andy protested. "Don't you have something to clean?"
"Nope," Josh said, "everything is cleaned up until the lunch crowd comes in. It should be quiet for the next hour."
"Then maybe you should inventory the storeroom," Andy suggested.
"We only do that once a month," Josh said, puzzled.
"I thought if you did, you might want help," Andy said, twisting the top button of her blouse idly.
Josh noticed the hint and suggested, "Well, it might be a good idea to go in and check to make sure everything is in the right place. Would you like to help with that?"
"I can help you make sure everything is in the right place," Andy assured him.
Josh took her hand and led her into the storeroom. As he went in, he told Amanda, "Andy is going to help me with something in the storeroom."
Amanda rolled her eyes and turned back to the counter. She frowned slightly as she saw Kyle and Jessi come in the front door. They had their arms around each other and Jessi was resting her head on Kyle's shoulder.
As I entered The Rack, I felt tired. I could sense that Jessi was also still weak from the events of the prior day. Our morning's efforts had drained some of the energy we had recovered overnight. I sensed Amanda's reaction to seeing us holding each other and began to stiffen in response. Holding Jessi, I could feel her reaction to my mood shift, a hint of sadness and rejection. I deliberately relaxed and pulled Jessi slightly closer to me. I was going to have to unlearn responses I had built when I was with Amanda. I was with Jessi now.
When Kyle and Jessi reached the counter, Amanda asked, "What can I get for you?"
Kyle said, "I'll have a pineapple orange banana smoothie. What would you like, Jessi?"
"Your usual," Jessi observed. "I think I'll try that too." She noticed a chocolate cake on the counter and added, "Kyle would you like a piece of the chocolate cake? Carbohydrates, sugars and serotonin elevators?"
Kyle smiled, "All right, after yesterday, we probably need it." He turned to Amanda and said, "We'll have a couple pieces of the cake too."
"You had a busy day yesterday?" Amanda asked attempting to be pleasant.
"The morning was very stressful," Jessi said. "But we spent the whole afternoon in bed." She looked at Kyle with a knowing smile.
Kyle blushed, and told Amanda, "We were just resting."
"It's none of my business," Amanda said, blushing as well. She looked away and then looked back and said curtly, "Two pineapple orange banana smoothies and two pieces of chocolate cake. I'll bring them to your table."
Kyle paid and then he and Jessi headed toward the back. On the way, he noticed a brown wicker love seat and suggested, "Would you like to sit here?"
Jessi smiled, "We can cuddle."
They sat down and Jessi leaned against Kyle's shoulder as he put his arm around her and held her.
Kyle admonished her gently, "You shouldn't have said that to Amanda, Jessi.
"It was true," Jessi protesting.
"But misleading," Kyle pointed out. "Now, Amanda thinks we're having sex."
"I want her to know you're with me," Jessi said. She looked at Kyle and asked, hesitantly, "Do you want to be having sex?"
Kyle blushed, "Someday. I don't think we're ready for that yet."
"We're still taking steps," Jessi agreed and then said, quietly, "Second base is nice."
"Yes, it is," Kyle agreed and kissed her.
Amanda cleared her throat. She was standing in front of them with a tray. She said, "Here are your smoothies and your cake." She put their orders down in front of them then muttered mostly to herself, "I'd tell you to go into the storeroom, but it's in use." She turned and went back to the counter.
Kyle watched her leave with a frown, he said, "Amanda's embarrassed and upset."
"I can live with that," Jessi said, eating a forkful of cake.
"Jessi," Kyle admonished. "I know she makes you feel insecure, but I don't want her to feel bad."
"I'm sorry, Kyle," Jessi said. "I try to be good. I want to be worthy of you. She and I just don't get along. She says mean things to me too."
"I know," Kyle sighed. "I just don't want her to be unhappy."
Amanda and Jessi had always seen each other as rivals for my attention. That was probably true, even though I hadn't realized it. Amanda had resented my special attachment to Jessi and had sensed my growing feelings for her even before I did. Jessi felt insecure because I had turned her away many times when I had been with Amanda. Deep down, she feared I would turn her away for Amanda once more. Making her feel more confident would take time. Time was what we all needed. I could still sense Amanda's heartbeat increase when I was around and mine increased in response. And, of course, Jessi could hear my heartbeat.
After Kyle and Jessi had drunk their smoothies and eaten most of their cake, they settled down comfortably, Jessi resting on Kyle's shoulder. Kyle looked down and said, "You should finish your cake. You need to restore your strength." He got a forkful of her cake and held it up to her mouth. She opened it and ate it, then smiled. She said, "You fed me some of my cake. No one has ever fed me anything before. We missed that part of growing up."
Kyle smiled, "You're right." Jessi picked up a forkful of cake and held it up for him to eat. He ate it and said, "That's nice." Then they kissed.
From her place behind the counter, Amanda sighed in annoyance and looked out the window, a glint of tears in her eyes.
Chapter 8: UDub Party
The sound of the party could be heard as Mark and Lori crossed the UDub campus.
Lori said, "I'm beginning to think of this place as my future home. I hope I can get in."
"When are you going to find out?" Mark asked.
"The admissions office says that they send out the letters in the last two weeks of March," Lori said.
"So another month," Mark said.
"Yeah," Lori smiled at him, "Until I do, you're still the college guy trying to take advantage of the impressionable high school girl."
"Impressionable," Mark scoffed. "Somehow I don't see you as very impressionable, Lori Trager."
"You never know," Lori raised an eyebrow. "It depends on how much beer you give me."
"That's not happening tonight," Mark informed her. "No beer."
"Did you promise my father again?" Lori scowled.
Mark held up his hands, "No, the school's cracking down. I heard they were checking ids."
"So you don't get any either," Lori laughed, "so much for the suave, sophisticated college man."
"I'll just have to impress you with my musical expertise," Mark said. "It's worked so far."
They went into the party. The volume was loud and the room was full of dancing students although there were places for people to sit as well as stand around. Mark led her to the bar where they got sodas. There was someone checking ids.
As they drank their sodas, Mark led them into the direction of the D.J.
Lori warned, "You can't go hide behind the CD players, you have to go out and dance with me."
"I will," Mark promised. "I just want to say hi to David and check what he's planning to play."
Lori rolled her eyes, but followed along. When they got to him, the D.J. greeted them, "Mark, I'm surprised you aren't doing this one, not that I mind, I can use the bucks."
"I wanted to bring Lori," Mark gestured in her direction. "What have you got queued up, Dave?" Dave showed him the list and he pointed to a spot and asked, "Could you slip something slower here?"
Dave glanced at Lori, "Will do, just for you and ... Lori."
"Thanks," Mark said, and led Lori away.
Lori said, "You skipped doing this dance so you could bring me?"
"I've discovered that attending the dance is fun when I'm dancing with you," Mark confessed. "I never used to like dances. I mostly just stood around, not dancing. It made me feel lonely."
"Well, then, let's dance," Lori said. They sat their nearly empty glasses down and went out onto the floor among the dancing crowd.
The next couple of dances were energetic and Mark started off hesitantly but Lori got into the music and he began to follow her example and relax and enjoy himself.
In the pause before the next song, the DJ announced, "This one's for Lori." The music transitioned to a slow dance and Mark put his arms around her as she blushed.
Mark said, "While it's really nice to be able to dance the fast dances without thinking about what a fool I am making of myself, I like this better."
"It is nice," Lori agreed. "Thank you for arranging it for us." They danced together enjoying the music and each other's company until the end of the song.
The next selection was back to being more energetic. Lori suggested, "It's probably time for another soda." Mark nodded and they made their way back to the bar for another soda.
As they stood drinking and watching, Mark asked, "Any word yet on 'Thursday'?"
"Robin says that so far it's still in, but they haven't finalized the album yet, so we don't know for sure," Lori said.
"Well, good luck," Mark said, "Getting a song on one of Willow's albums would probably pay for a year of this place. She's popular."
"I don't want to count on that," Lori said. "And I haven't gotten in yet." She looked at him and said with an uncharacteristically hopeful expression, "It would be nice though, wouldn't it?"
"It certainly would," Mark agreed. "It's nice to see you look forward to the future with hope. You should do it more often."
"Well, knowing my luck ..." Lori started to say.
"Don't spoil it," Mark said, and silenced her with a kiss.
Chapter 9: Brad Keels
Brad Keels was sitting in his hotel room, looking out the window at the activity in the mid-day streets below, the modern hotel room contrasting with the street markets filled with the locals in a variety of brightly colored garb. His attention was drawn by an insistent banging on his door. He went to the door to check and, puzzled, began to open it. Colonel Kieferts pushed the door the rest of the way open and barged into the room.
"What's wrong?" Keels asked.
"That's what I've come to find out." Kieferts looked intently at Keels. "If you're double crossing me, you'll find out that you've made a fatal mistake."
"Calm down, get something to drink," Keels said. "What are you talking about?"
"I don't want to calm down and I sure as hell don't want a drink," Kieferts declared. "I want my money."
"I put two million into your account last week," Keels protested, puzzled. "You should still have plenty."
"Well my account is empty. I don't have a dime," Kieferts said. "And the National Security Force is rounding up all my people. Every one of my facilities is being raided."
"I thought you had someone high up in your pay," Keels frowned. "He's supposed to warn you."
"Well, apparently, no one warned him," Kieferts said. "They took him out and shot him this morning. Somehow the security force has information on my operations. Someone has tipped them off." He looked at Keels with suspicion, "Someone who knows everything about my operation."
"Is this going to set us back?" Keels asked.
"Set us back?" Kieferts was incredulous. "It's over. Didn't you hear me? They are closing down all my facilities. They are rounding up all my people. My men are dying left and right." He waved the gun around.
Keels started to look frightened, he said placating, "I can get you some more money right now. Maybe we can regroup, save what we can of the operation."
Kieferts snorted, "This whole operation is done. I'm trying to get as many of my people out of the country as possible and I don't have a damned dime to do it with. I need money, Keels, and I need it now." He pointed the gun directly at Keels.
Keels paled and went over to the table in the corner to open his laptop. As the system came up he said, "How much do you need to extricate your people."
Kieferts said, "Under the current conditions it will be expensive. I can probably save everyone who can still be saved for half a million."
Keels looked at the gun and assured him, "I can do that, let me log in and transfer it." He typed a couple of entries and then looked puzzled. He made a few more entries with growing agitation. He looked up and said, "Something's wrong, my account is empty too. I am going to have to contact my banker in Zurich." He reached for his cell phone.
Atkins dashed into the room, a gun in his hand as well. He shouted, "Colonel, the security forces are here, they're coming up the elevator now."
Kieferts looked back at Keels, his face filled with rage. He shouted, "You can talk to your banker in hell." He aimed at Keels.
Keels said, "Wait, there has to be a way to figure this out."
Kieferts shot him between the eyes and as he collapsed onto his laptop, the table fell over tossing it and his body onto the floor. Kieferts turned toward the door, "Atkins, we are going to have to shoot our way out and see if we can get lost in the confusion in the street."
Atkins said, "Yes, sir."
They ran into the hall. There were more security forces than they expected. The attempt to shoot their way out was short, bloody and unsuccessful.
Chapter 10: Declan and Foss
Foss parked the van in their usual spot off the road and they got out. Declan carried the case containing his Glock and Foss carried the duffel containing their ammunition and ear muffs. They didn't speak as they walked along the path through the trees and brush until they got to the clearing they used for target practice.
Foss put the duffle on the ground and pointed to the log they usually sat on at the end of practice, "Let's sit down for a moment first."
Declan nodded and sat down, still holding his gun case.
Foss asked, "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Talk about what?" Declan asked.
"You've been quiet all day," Foss said. "Rescuing Jessi was tough. You had to see and do a lot of things that you haven't had to face before. It's understandable that it would bother you."
"I've been playing it over and over in my mind," Declan told him. "I can't stop thinking about it."
"I had to shoot him," Foss assured him. "There weren't any other choices."
"Of course you did," Declan said. "He was going to kill Jessi." He paused for a moment and, reluctantly added, "That's not the problem."
"Then, what is?" Foss frowned.
"I didn't," Declan said. He looked into the distance and added, "All that practice, all your drills and when it counted, when Jessi's life was on the line I didn't shoot."
"I had the lead," Foss said. "I was already shooting."
"I had a clear shot," Declan said. I had stepped to the side and had a clear shot while he was firing at you. I had chambered a round and I was ready to fire and I didn't."
"What happened?" Foss asked.
"When I was standing there, it was a man, not a target. It felt wrong," Declan sighed heavily. "I knew we had to, I wanted to, but I didn't."
"It is wrong," Foss assured him. "It's hard to kill someone, even when you know you have to. Especially the first time you do it."
"It gets easier with practice?" Declan frowned.
"Yes and no," Foss explained. "It gets easier to do, but you still have to live with the consequences. Ian Grimes is taking his turns in my dreams." He shook his head in memory and added, "It's quite a crowd."
"So what do I do?" Declan asked with a hint of desperation. "I can't kill someone just to get practice."
"No, although in war sometimes that's how it happens," Foss told him, "if you live though your first engagement, of course." He looked at Declan in thought for a moment, "The problem is that while you knew in your head," he tapped him in the head for emphasis, "that it was the right thing to do, you didn't know it in your heart." Foss tapped his chest. "If you were pinned down in a fire fight, you would get past that in a few seconds. Of course we didn't have seconds to spare. That was your first time in combat."
"Do you think it would be different if it happened again," Declan asked.
"Well, I certainly hope it doesn't," Foss admitted. "But, yes, you've seen it through. Your reactions would be different another time. It might help to visualize Grimes when you're shooting targets. Work through the process so that your heart understands what must be done."
"I have to learn to kill people," Declan said grimly.
"You don't have to do this," Foss said. "It's my job. I just asked you to help watch monitors. I thought you would find it interesting to learn to shoot. It was a reward for the boring times, but once I started I wanted to really train you."
"No, it has to be done," Declan shook his head. "You said it yourself. Keeping them safe is important. What if you hadn't been there? Jessi would be dead now. If someone comes after either of them I don't want to freeze, I want to be ready."
Foss looked him in the eye, "You will be." He clapped him on the shoulder then stood up and suggested, "Let's get some practice in. Load up and I'll set up a drill."
Declan sighed and stood up, some of the dark mood passing, while he was getting his Glock out and inserting a clip he asked, "What's the drill for today."
Foss thought for a moment, "Especially in view of this discussion, I think it would be a good idea for us to replay the scenario we faced the other day. I'll have you move down the trail and I'll put up a target. Then I'll join you and we will run along the path with you in the lead and when you see the target you'll fire." He shrugged, "It might help to imagine Grimes as the target. Remember him standing there."
"You fired on the run," Declan observed. "That wasn't what you taught me."
"It probably wasn't the best strategy," Foss agreed. "If I didn't hit him, I was planning on grabbing him. You can try both." He got the ear muffs out of the bag and handed a pair to Declan. He instructed, "Put these on and go about a hundred feet back up the path. I'll join you when we are ready to go."
After Declan left the clearing, Foss put the target on one of the trees, making sure that there was a hill behind it to catch errant shots, then he went to join Declan. "Let's go," he said.
They ran down the path with Declan in the lead, when Declan first saw the target he fired then he went to his knee, braced the gun and fired three more shots. Foss walked over to the target and brought it back. "Two hits," he said. "That's very good. I think that going to you knee is your best strategy."
They did it several more times with similar results until Foss said, "That's enough. I think any more will just start to get sloppy."
"I can do it again," Declan said with determination. "I want to get it right."
"I know," Foss nodded approvingly, "But that's enough for today, let's sit down." They went back and sat on the log. Foss said, "How do you feel?"
"Better," Declan admitted. "I thought I'd let you down."
"You did everything I asked you to do, and you did it well," Foss assured him. "It was my job to take out Grimes."
"This time," Declan said.
"This time," Foss agreed.
Chapter 11: Kyle's Room
Kyle was working on his computer when Jessi came into his room.
Jessi asked, "Have you found any news yet?"
"I'm running our decoding algorithm on some NSA traffic out of the area that might be relevant," Kyle said. "Aside from that, there's just what we already know. The insurrection is over. The mercenary camps have been shut down and the streets are calming down." He looked at Jessi and said, quietly, "A lot of them were killed in the round up."
"We knew that was going to happen," Jessi shrugged. "They were killing people. They spread anthrax. In the end more people will be saved by what we did than died."
"But we made the decision that killed them," Kyle objected. "It's still our responsibility."
"That's true," Jessi agreed. She asked, frowning, "Are you sorry we did?"
"No," Kyle shook his head. "It was the right thing to do." The screen in front of him repainted and Kyle looked at it. "The decoding is complete. I thought it might be about Keels," he said, reading. "Keels' body was found in his hotel room. Kieferts died in fight with the security forces in the hall outside." He pointed to a spot on the screen and said, "The reports from the scene speculate that Kieferts killed Keels before taking on the security forces. They're going to do an autopsy to check the ballistics."
"That was one of the more likely scenarios," Jessi said. "Are you all right?"
"I am," Kyle assured her after a moment. "It was the right thing to do." He looked up at her and said, fiercely. "He'll never send anyone after you again."
"Or after you," Jessi added. "He might have tried to do that next."
"It's possible," Kyle admitted. He took a deep breath, "I think it's time for us to finish our Latnok research. Keels was the most dangerous board member, but there are others we need to deal with as well. We need to find out just what they are doing."
Jessi said, "I'll get my laptop and come work with you." She left the room.
Kyle went back to typing on his computer and in a moment, Jessi returned with her laptop and set it on the desk next to Kyle's pulling up a chair. Kyle suggested, "Let's start with Paul Milworth. We already know he's the one who supplied Keels with the anthrax."
"I saved his bank account information when I was tracking it from Keels' account," Jessi said. "We can start with that."
"I already found his lab when we were first looking at the Latnok data," Kyle said. "We can expand the search from there. We need to find out what it is producing, where he is sending the products and follow all the money trails."
Working together Jessi and I were able to track all of the organizations that Paul Milworth had been involved with, where the money for them had come from and what they did. We were able to see documentation of the biological weapons he had created and where he had sold them. It was a disturbing array of customers. We also found numerous financial irregularities, he had diverted funds from other places to provide the start up capital he needed for clandestine projects. He had been involved in a number of things Keels had done.
"What are we going to do with all this information?" Jessi asked. "Send it to Ben Crossgate for the next meeting?"
"I don't want to warn Milworth," Kyle shook his head. "He's not as bad as Keels, but he's a dangerous person too." Kyle thought for a moment and said, "We'll present it to the board ourselves. We'll arrange this information so that the board members can easily follow it and print copies to bring to the meeting."
"Are we just going to go after Paul Milworth?" Jessi asked.
"I think we have to research them all," Kyle said, "all the ones who shouldn't be part of Adam and Sarah's vision of Latnok." He stretched and offered, "I'm going to go get some orange juice. Would you like some?"
"Yes, Thank you," Jessi said. "I'll start on Robert Lukeson. I don't like him. He didn't seem very friendly when we met. We were only experiments to him."
"I agree," Kyle said, leaving the room. He returned in a couple of minutes carrying two glasses of orange juice. He handed one to Jessi and then took a drink out of his. "Have you found anything?" He asked her.
"There's quite a lot of data here," Jessi observed. "He's been doing work on autonomous weapons systems. That's not specifically illegal, but he's been selling them to some places where it is very much illegal to sell military systems. I've got documentation of sales to North Korea and Iran among other places."
"I don't like them at all," Kyle frowned. "There are already too many ways to kill people."
We researched Robert Lukeson. We had been aware that he had been involved in weapon system development, particularly the use of autonomous weapons. Our research showed a trail of illicit weapons sales, bribery, insider trading and some misdirection of funds. His operation had been quite lucrative, and potentially very deadly.
"It isn't as strong of a case as we have against Milworth," Kyle frowned. "But this is certainly not what Adam had in mind when he formed Latnok. Do you think it's enough to bring before the board now?"
"The case will be stronger if some of those weapons he sold get used," Jessi said. "Do you want to wait for that to happen?"
"No, I don't," Kyle said. "We'll prepare this for the meeting as well."
Next we looked into Grace. She had quite a number of financial misdeeds and had worked to facilitate Keels, Milworth and Lukeson. She had not been directly involved in questionable research, herself. She had been more of a facilitator of those who were. She had also helped Cassidy with the experiment that we had destroyed. We found a trail of some funds that she had given to Cassidy for some new operation but nothing on the operation itself.
"We need to present this as well," Kyle said.
"I want to find out what Cassidy is doing," Jessi insisted.
"We will," Kyle assured her. "Right now, let's take care of the Latnok board. After we've dealt with them we can focus on Cassidy."
"Do you promise?" She asked.
"I promise," Kyle said. "I won't forget Sarah."
We looked at Julie Fairburn and Craig Tamblyn but we could not find anything serious that either had done wrong. They had been supporting Keels, Milworth, Lukeson and Grace for their own reasons but had not participated in any of the questionable activities directly.
"That's all of them," Kyle said. "With Keels dead, there are three board members left to deal with. We need to prepare copies of the data on all three before the next meeting."
"They're going to fight us," Jessi said. "They've had power and money for a long time. They're not going to give it up easily."
"The fight is already over," Kyle assured her. "Remember 'King's Indian'? We have built up our allies, prepared our lines of attack and waited until we could move with overwhelming force. We know the members we can count on, with Keels gone, they are not going to have the votes. We do."
"Are we just going to surprise them at the meeting?" Jessi asked.
"We should probably get Ben Crossgate's assistance," Kyle said. "We haven't been to dinner with him, yet. Why don't we invite him to dinner?"
"We should wait until just before the meeting," Jessi suggested. "He might accidentally warn someone."
"That's a good idea," Kyle nodded.
Chapter 12: Nate and Amanda
Nate checked their ticket stubs and led Amanda down the aisle of the symphony hall. Their seats were on the orchestra level a third of the way back from the stage. They moved down the row and sat in the comfortable brownish yellow seats. Amanda looked around at the room, admiring the rich brown and yellow color scheme, the brown wood of the walls contrasted with the three tiers of yellow balconies along the sides and back of the hall.
"These are really nice seats," Amanda said with enthusiasm. "I've only been here a few times and it was usually in the balcony. Thank you."
"I wanted to have good seats for our field trip," Nate said. "Besides, sitting closer will help me appreciate the music." He smiled and added, "I'm here to learn, after all."
Amanda gave him a skeptical look, "I don't think this is all about your musical education."
"I wanted to make this special for you," Nate shrugged. "I haven't made any secret of the fact that I like you, Amanda. But I really am learning about music. I suppose the fact that you are so interested in it makes it more interesting to me. When you give me something to listen to, that makes it special. I pay attention. You show me things in the music I've never noticed."
Amanda blushed and said, thoughtfully, "I could never show Kyle anything. He seemed to already know everything."
"I'm afraid I'm not in Kyle's league," Nate shrugged. "I don't think anyone is."
"Except Jessi," Amanda said with a hint of bitterness.
"Except Jessi," Nate agreed. "That's been a bitter pill to swallow. I always thought that if I worked harder I could be better than the competition. It usually worked for me in the past. Not when I'm competing against Kyle."
"It's good to be able to tell someone about something I've learned and not have them already know it," Amanda mused. "Sometimes Kyle treated me like a helpless child."
"You're not a child," Nate said, "You're a beautiful woman."
"Well, at least I'm not helpless," Amanda acknowledged.
Nate rubbed his jaw and said with a smile, "No, you pack a pretty good punch."
Amanda blushed, "I'm really sorry."
"I'm just saying you're not helpless," Nate said. "We both have things to be sorry about."
Amanda smiled at him, the lights began to dim and the conductor walked onto the stage to the applause of the crowd. He raised his baton and the symphony began with a couple of pairs of strong notes from the orchestra and then the strings led an enthusiastic first movement.
As they listened, Nate looked at Amanda. Her face, lit by the stage, was focused on the music, she was clearly enjoying it. He admired the view for a moment, then smiled and looked back at the orchestra.
Almost a half hour after it had begun the strings led the orchestra into the final beats and then the hall exploded in applause.
"That was really beautiful," Amanda said, "What did you think?"
"I liked it," Nate said, "There was a definite joyful feel, playful. The music was incredibly rich."
"The horn concerto is next," Amanda said. "Let's see what you think of that."
The French horn started the concerto with a strong lead and the symphony picked it up and followed. A few short minutes later it came to an end to applause.
"What did you think of that?" Amanda asked.
"I'm afraid the horn doesn't do much for me," Nate admitted. "I liked the Symphony better. It was more complex."
The slow sad, music of Requiem began slowly building until it was joined by the chorus. The music filled the hall, moving between strong passages and quiet ones which had them leaning forward. After the music had built to the final 'Amen' of the chorus, the audience once more applauded enthusiastically.
Amanda was slightly breathless when she turned to Nate and asked, "How was that?"
"It was amazing. Being in the hall, the music has a physical presence," Nate said. "There was a wide range of intensity."
"It wasn't all written by Mozart," Amanda explained. "It was unfinished at his death. There's a lot of mystery about who finished it and the exact circumstances. There are some who say he wrote it as his own requiem. Of course his widow may have spread a lot of these stories. She was trying to make money after he died so she wanted to build interest."
Nate nodded. "I'll have to read more about it."
"There's a whole movie on the subject, called 'Amadeus'. It was made about twenty five years ago," Amanda said. "It's not very accurate, but it's a great movie. We should watch it sometime."
"I'll look forward to it," Nate said.
The crowd was starting to file out of the hall and Amanda took Nate's arm as they moved through the crowd. They animatedly discussed the pieces as Nate drove her home.
When they arrived, they walked up to her door and paused awkwardly. Nate said, smiling, "It was a very enjoyable field trip."
Amanda smiled, "Thank you, I had a very good time." She looked at him for a moment and then hesitantly kissed him on the cheek. She pulled back about a foot and met his eyes for a long moment and then leaned forward again and kissed him gently on the lips. She then said, "Good night, Nate. It was a very nice date."
"Yes it was," Nate said, watching as she opened her door and went inside.
Chapter 13: Kyle's Room
The house was quiet as I lay sleepless in my tub. I had heard Amanda coming back from her date with Nate and heard her kiss him. I told myself that we weren't together anymore and that I shouldn't listen to her but I had been listening for so long that it had become automatic. I still wanted to make sure she was safe and thought that Nate wasn't a good person for her to be with. Jessi was right. We had no proof that Nate had done anything wrong, but it still bothered me. I could hear Jessi stirring, sleepless herself. I listened to her get out of bed and come toward my room.
Jessi opened Kyle's door and came in quietly, closing and locking it behind her. She turned to Kyle with a smile and whispered "Discreet." She approached Kyle's tub and asked "May I?"
Kyle opened his arms, welcomingly, and she climbed into the tub, resting her head on his shoulder and placing her open hand on his chest. She looked up at him and they gently kissed.
"You shouldn't have been listening," Jessi admonished him. "You're not with her anymore. She can kiss anyone she wants to."
"I know," Kyle admitted, he thought a moment and asked, "Were you listening too?"
"Not until I heard your heart rate spike," Jessi said. "Then I wanted to find out what was wrong." She sighed, "It was just Amanda ... again."
"I can't help it, Jessi," Kyle said. "I still have some feelings for her, even though I know I shouldn't."
"I know you do, Kyle," Jessi said. "I know how you feel. I can feel when you are unhappy." She paused and added, "I want you to be happy."
"There may be some disadvantages to being so closely linked," Kyle said, "if my being unhappy and unable to sleep makes you unable to sleep too."
"It means I can be here for you when you need me," Jessi looked into his eyes and added, "You were there when I needed you."
"I was so frightened," Kyle admitted. "I couldn't reach you at all. There was nothing there. It took everything I had to locate you."
"The sedative shut everything down," Jessi said. "I was lost in the dark, all alone. It was hard to think at all. Then I heard you call my name." She gently kissed his chest and rested her head on the spot. "You called me 'your love'. You pulled me out of that dark place."
"You are my love, Jessi," Kyle said. He stroked her hair.
"And you are mine," Jessi said. They kissed and then she settled back against his chest happily. Kyle's hand on her shoulder drifted down and stroked her side. She looked up at him and their eyes met.
She smiled at him, "Your heart rate just went up, are you thinking about second base?"
Kyle blushed and said, "I am. I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry," she said. She sat up in the tub and added, "Take my shirt off."
Kyle said, hopefully, "Are you sure?"
In response she stretched with her arms over her head and he pulled the t-shirt over her head and dropped it to the side of the tub. She lay back down, stretching to place her bare skin against his.
"That feels very nice," Kyle said. "My skin tingles everywhere we touch."
"Mine too," Jessi said with a slight hoarseness in her voice. She reached over and took his free hand, guiding it to her chest.
"Now both of our hearts are beating harder," Kyle said.
"We have strong hearts," Jessi said with a smile. "We can take it. I like your hand there."
"It makes me want to go farther," Kyle admitted. "But we shouldn't yet."
"We should take our time," Jessi said. "Enjoy the steps." She added, hesitantly, "Whatever you want, I won't tell you no."
"We'll take our time," Kyle said. "This is very nice."
Chapter 14: Madacorp
Kyle and Jessie walked past the wooden door with the inset glass rectangles at the entry to Emily Hollander's Madacorp office and encountered her secretary, Tiffany, a tall thin blonde woman.
Tiffany said, "Good afternoon Mr. Trager, Ms. Taylor. You can go right in, they're waiting for you."
"Thank, you, Tiffany," Kyle acknowledged and they walked through the door into Emily's office. As they did, Emily and Mike Kasperson rose from the small table at one side of her office and came to greet them.
"Kyle, Jessi, It's good to see you again," Emily said, "Mike wanted to be here for our meeting today."
"It wasn't really necessary," Mike smiled. "Emily is perfectly capable of handling this; I just didn't want to get left out of the fun."
They shook hands and then sat around the table. Emily said, "How did your session go with the technical staff?"
Kyle smiled, "It's going slowly. They're having a hard time believing the assembly system will work. They're struggling with the concepts involved."
Emily looked concerned, "They are building the first assembly systems aren't they? You gave them plans. They don't actually have to understand all the concepts at this stage. They do have to build and test them."
"They are building them," Kyle assured her. "They just want to understand what they are doing."
"I don't blame them," Mike said. "These are highly respected PhD's with quite a few patents among them. They expect to know what they are doing."
"They will probably have more confidence in the design after they start producing quantum batteries themselves," Kyle admitted. "We brought two more of them from Kesdet for your testing program. We're going to keep making them there until you can make your own."
"What's their reaction to those?" Mike asked. "They've had a chance to test them extensively by now."
"They are still spending a lot of time trying to figure out what the trick is," Kyle smiled.
"Do you think they'll figure them out?" Mike said. "You said you didn't know precisely what was going on at the atomic level that you had to design them at the metaphor level."
"You misunderstand me," Kyle explained. "They're trying to figure out how we are pulling off the fraud. Some of them don't believe it really works. They assume there must be an external power source. The currently favored theory is beamed power. They have been testing them in shielded containers. Of course, they still work."
"How could they doubt that they work?" Emily frowned. "They can see them in operation."
"Emily, this technology is so advanced that it's like alien technology to them," Mike said. "I'm not surprised that there is a degree of skepticism."
"That's the other popular theory," Jessi said with a smile. "They think we are taking them out of a flying saucer."
"Really?" Emily asked, amazed.
"I don't know if they're serious or just joking," Kyle said. "Sometimes people imagine aliens when they are dealing with something they don't understand."
I remembered how Josh had been convinced I was an alien when I first arrived at the Trager house, keeping of book of all of the unusual things I did as his 'evidence' that I was of alien origin. In some ways, the scientists who were trying to understand the quantum battery were acting just as Josh had done.
"Well, as long as they're building the assembly systems, they can imagine it's from an alien space ship if they want to," Emily laughed. Then she became more businesslike, "My job is to get this business off the ground as soon as possible." She opened her folder and pulled out a document, "Here's the contract for the joint venture between Madacorp and Kesdet that you drew up, Kyle. Our lawyers have looked it over and have approved it -- they actually said it was very well written. I have the approval of my board," she nodded at Mike who nodded back, "to commit Madacorp to the project. If you're still in agreement we can get this signed and I can start the process of building the joint venture."
"We're ready," Kyle said. He looked at Jessi and she nodded.
"Good," Emily said. She flipped to the signature page and signed and dated it, then passed it across to Kyle, saying, "Who's going to sign for Kesdet?"
"We both will," Kyle said. He quickly flipped through the pages and then signed it and passed it to Jessi who also signed. She passed the signed document back to Emily.
Emily put the document back into her folder, "Good, we all agree that speed is essential. I've been doing the work here using some of my miscellaneous research and development funds. I am going to fund the new company and get it started. The board authorized an initial ten million dollar fund. We're going to continue to do the pilot development here at Madacorp with the new company renting space. We're also going to build up a sales and marketing staff and start to reach out to potential customers on a nondisclosure basis." She smiled at Kyle and Jessi and said, "We not only have to make them, we have to sell them."
"That was why we came to you," Kyle said. "We didn't want to have to do all of that ourselves."
Emily turned to Mike and asked, "Is there anything you want to add?"
"No, everything is moving ahead," Mike said. "This is going to change the world. I just wanted to be here to watch it happen."
Chapter 15: UDub Pockets
As had become their custom, Jessi and Lori drove together to 'Pockets' in Jessi's Corvette and the rest of the Trager family, this time including Andy, followed in the family car.
When they pulled up to park, Jessi shut off the engine and turned to Lori, "You are more relaxed this time. Your heart rate is only moderately elevated."
"I am more relaxed," Lori admitted. "I think it's because Willow Hendricks is interested in 'Thursday'. Even if she doesn't use it, I know she takes it seriously. When I first came here I felt like a fraud, a high school girl singing at a college event. I don't feel that way anymore."
As they were getting Lori's guitar out of the trunk, the rest of the party joined them and they all walked together toward the door, Jessi hanging back to put her arm around Kyle, a gesture he returned. As usual, Mark was waiting for them when they got to the door. He kissed Lori and then held the door open for them to go in.
As they came through the door, Gary Baker waved at them and pointed at their usual table which had a reserved sign on it. They waved back and headed to the table, with Stephen and Nicole splitting off to go to their own table as usual.
They spread out around the table and a waiter took their drink orders. Lori was glancing over her music when Gary showed up at the table along with Robin Benson.
Gary said, "Ready at eight?"
"I'll be ready," Lori said, and Gary nodded and headed away to make arrangements, leaving Robin behind. Lori said, "Robin, I didn't know you were going to be here."
Robin smiled, "I always try to be there when one of my people is performing."
"Would you like to sit with us?" Lori indicated the table.
"Thank you," Robin pulled up a chair and sat down. She looked around the table and smiled in anticipation, "Tonight is a celebration." At Lori's puzzled look she announced, "Willow Hendricks album is complete, and 'Thursday' is on it."
"She used it!" Lori said. Mark hugged her and everyone congratulated her.
Robin continued, "So, they're finishing the master and then they will start pressing disks. The release date will be a couple of months from now. I'll know the exact date by the end of next week."
"How many disks are they planning on pressing?" Kyle asked.
"They haven't finalized that but the last three of Willow's albums have been Platinum, so they will at least commit to Gold." Robin opened her hands, "After that it depends on how popular the song is and how much airplay the track gets. That'll determine royalties." She looked at Lori and nodded with pleasure, "We could do well with this."
"This could help me pay for college," Lori agreed.
Robin smiled and said, "I think it certainly could."
Declan and Jackie walked up to the table together. Declan said, "Hi Trager, we thought we'd come and lend our support."
Lori looked around the full table and offered, hesitantly, "Would you like to sit with us?"
"No, we'll go find our own table," Declan declined. "I just wanted to wish you luck."
"I've already had luck," Lori said, "Robin," she gestured in Robin's direction, "says that Willow is definitely using my song in her new album."
"That's great news," Declan said enthusiastically.
Lori noticed Gary looking in her direction and exclaimed, "Oh, I got so excited I forgot. I have to sing now."
Declan smiled, "Later, Trager." He led Jackie off to look for a table.
"I wish he'd stop saying that," Lori muttered, then stood up.
Mark stood to kiss her and offered, "Good luck."
She picked up her guitar and headed to the front. Once she was seated on her tall stool with the two microphones, one for her to sing into and one for her guitar, Gary Baker went to the side microphone and said, "Tonight we have the singer-songwriter, Lori Trager back once more. Let's give her a warm welcome." There was a welcoming applause, perhaps louder than the previous time.
Lori looked at the audience and strummed an A major, the ringing sound of the chord reflected her mood as she began the first song, a strong song, more upbeat than most of her work.
At their table, Jessi was listening comfortably resting against Kyle's shoulder, a smile on her face.
I enjoyed the feeling of Jessi leaning against me, her energy and mine together. After the immediate terror of almost losing Jessi faded, our relationship had settled into a more comfortable, confident mode. I had never fully realized how insecure and alone Jessi had felt until that feeling began to fade as she became more confident in my feelings for her and had felt the welcoming warmth of the Trager family. Trouble can either drive people apart or pull them together. We were all closer together now.
Andy said to Josh, nodding in appreciation, "Lori's really good ... like she belongs up there."
"She's been getting better," Josh said. "The first time she was really nervous. Tonight she seems really comfortable."
The song came to an end and Lori's mood shifted. She softly strummed an A minor, let it sit in the air by itself for a moment as she found the place in her heart the song came from, then strummed it stronger and began 'Thursday'. The audience quieted, they could connect with the emotions of the song and the singer.
At the table Andy whispered to Josh, "I can totally see Willow doing this."
At their table, Stephen said quietly to Nicole, "It's amazing how much she's grown into this."
Nicole looked over at the table where the rest of the party sat and said, "They've all grown so much Stephen. I can feel them getting ready to go out on their own. In a way, it's a little sad."
"That's what they're supposed to do, Nicole," Stephen reminded her. "It means we've done our job well." He put his arm round her and she leaned on his shoulder, the melancholy of 'Thursday' mixing with the recognition that the children were growing up.
At their table, Declan commented to Jackie, "So I really am going to be able to listen to what a jerk I am on the radio." He mused, "I was a jerk."
Jackie patted his hand, "Everyone is once in a while. I think you're more than eighty percent good guy," she added encouragingly
Declan smiled and gestured toward the stage, "She really is into the song tonight." Jackie nodded.
On the stage, Lori finished and the last cord settled into the crowd. Then there was a strong applause and she nodded. Then she took a breath and strummed a solid D and moved into a song that had some power and anger to it.
Robin looked at Mark and commented, "That's new."
Mark nodded, "About half of the set is new."
"I'm going to need another CD," Robin said. "I only have some of these."
Lori finished the song and moved into something quieter. Throughout the set she changed the mood, reflecting her own changeable moods but always with an undertone of unhappiness. At the end she got a strong applause and came back to the table.
She sat down and began drinking from her soda. She said, "That really takes a lot out of you. You don't realize how hard it is until you stop."
Mark said, "You did really well. I thought 'Thursday' was the best I've ever heard you do it."
"It seemed special to me tonight," Lori said, looking at Robin.
Robin told Lori, "I'd like to get a demo CD of some of the new songs."
Lori looked at Mark and asked, "Can we get another session at Raitt Hall?"
Mark said, "Sure, no problem. I can schedule time some evening next week."
"Actually, we work with a small studio for this type of thing," Robin interrupted. "I can book you some time. I want to help with the process, I have some performance thoughts I want to discuss."
"You want to change my songs?" Lori asked, with a small frown. "Or the way I sing?"
Robin held up a hand, "Nothing like that. What I want to do is to give you some idea who I am going to try to pitch them to and have you slightly shift your interpretation to make it easier for them to imagine themselves singing it. You obviously have an affinity for Willow so you were already there."
"Well ... you're the professional," Lori reluctantly agreed. "I'll do it your way."
Mark frowned, "It's probably better in a professional studio." His voice lacked enthusiasm.
Lori picked up on this, "You'll have to come with me. I need your advice." She leaned over and kissed him. He cheered somewhat.
At their table, Jackie said to Declan, "I have some good news too. My grant's been approved. I have enough funds for a real pilot project. If it is successful I'll have enough seed to put a number of acres into production next spring."
"Where are you going to do the pilot project, at UDub?" Declan asked.
"I need more space," Jackie shook her head. "It would also be better to be in a warmer and drier climate. We balanced the plant for those conditions to target regions where current crops don't grow well."
Declan frowned, "Are you going to have to go away to do this?"
"Maybe," Jackie said hesitantly. "Everything's still preliminary at this point. I just got the word."
"When will you know?" Declan asked, still concerned.
"I still have to see some of the details of the grant," Jackie said. "It will probably take me a couple of weeks to plan now that I know the timing and conditions."
She saw his frown and kissed him on the cheek, saying, "Let's not worry about that now." We should go celebrate by eating too much ice cream or doing something else indulgent."
"Or both?" Declan suggested.
"That could be interesting," Jackie said with a smile.
Chapter 16: Dinner - Ben Crossgate
Jessi parked the Corvette in the restaurant parking lot and she and Kyle got out and approached the familiar wooden and stone building. They walked past the stone pillars of the entryway and through the glass doors into the restaurant.
Upon entering, they encountered the Maitre d'. He greeted them, "Mr. Trager, welcome back. We have your table ready. Would you follow me?" He led them through the restaurant past the elegantly set tables. The wood beams of the ceiling and generous use of wood and stone lent a feeling of strength to the room. When they reached the table, he said, "When the last member of your party ...?"
"Mr. Crossgate," Kyle supplied.
"...Mr. Crossgate arrives, I'll bring him to you." The Maitre d' continued. "In the meantime, enjoy the view. Your waiter will be by in a moment to get anything you need."
"Thank you," Kyle said and the Maitre d' left.
Kyle and Jessi sat, next to each other near the window so that they could look into the room. While they waited they turned and looked out into the night, holding hands.
"Tomorrow's the board meeting," Kyle said. "This may be the last one of these Latnok Board dinners we do."
"I think we'll still find lots of reasons to come here," Jessi said.
"You just like to see me in this suit," Kyle laughed, and then added, "But you're probably right. There will still be people we'll want to meet like this."
Kyle glanced back into the room and saw the Maitre d' leading Ben Crossgate through the restaurant, he was medium height with a craggy face and thick medium blonde hair. They rose to meet him.
"Thank you for coming, Mr. Crossgate," Kyle said.
"Kyle, Jessi, it's good to see you again," Crossgate said, shaking hands. As he sat he added, "Call me Ben, please."
"Thank you for coming, Ben," Kyle said. "We wanted to talk to you before tomorrow's meeting."
"I've been hoping you'd get around to me," Ben smiled. "Your dinners are the talk of Latnok."
"They are?" Kyle said with a hint of alarm.
"Discreetly the talk of Latnok," Ben assured him. "Mostly just the people you've invited have been comparing notes. The general consensus is that you want to refocus Latnok back on the goals that Adam Baylin had when we started. Everyone's pretty excited. I think that's a great idea, but not one that I've been able to make any headway on."
"Why not?" Kyle asked.
"Until your seat was filled," Ben explained, "there were only five us who shared that vision. We were outnumbered by those who had their own interests and thought we were naive and idealistic. They were making money and some of them were following interests that, frankly, weren't the kind of thing Adam would have had us do."
"Money and power," Kyle said, then added, "and worse."
"Exactly," Ben agreed. "Of course, to be honest, the rest of us haven't exactly made a vow of poverty. We've all done well for ourselves since our student days. But we try to focus on doing well for others as well. I hear you've been doing some of that yourselves over at Madacorp. Mike Kasperson was almost babbling when he talked to me about the 'quantum battery'. He says it's a 'world changing' invention." He paused and then hesitantly asked, "Why did you take that to Madacorp instead of going through Latnok's facilities?"
"We've spent time doing a detailed review of Madacorp and are comfortable with how it's running. We were also happy to work with Emily and Mike on the project," Kyle said. "Latnok certainly will share in the profits through their investment in Madacorp. There were just too many things we were uncertain about at Latnok to have the project there."
"I know what you mean," Ben said. "And I don't blame you. There are a lot of things that have bothered me about some of the members -- I'm sure you know who I'm talking about. I've tried to do some research, but I've never really gotten anywhere. That's why I was so happy when the two of you took up the cause." He sighed, "I'm sorry you had to give it up, although I understand why. One can encounter a lot of discouragement if you try to go down that path."
"We didn't give it up," Kyle said.
Ben looked confused, "You asked me to take it off of the agenda."
"Grace told us that Jessi would be at risk if we pursued it, so we asked you to take it off the agenda to lower the threat. We've continued to look into the subject quietly."
"Grace threatened you?" Ben said. "She's usually not that direct."
"She wasn't," Kyle said. "She actually said that others were likely to harm Jessi."
"That kind of thing has happened before," Ben nodded. "One is always hesitant to call their bluff."
"It wasn't a bluff," Jessi said coldly. "They tried to kill me. They almost succeeded."
"Are you all right," Ben said, alarmed.
"She's fine," Kyle assured him. "And we've dealt with the threat. It's time to clean up Latnok. We've finished our research. We have full documentation on misdeeds by several board members. We want to put the matter back on the agenda for tomorrow's meeting."
Ben sat back and frowned, "That could be a problem. Generally our operating rules require that information for the meeting go out in the packet that Gabrielle sends before the meeting. The idea is to make sure that everyone has a chance to study it ahead of time. Of course, I think you two are the only ones who really do any studying. I can only add something at the last minute if there is a majority of the members in favor. If it's a minor issue, then that's no problem, but this will clearly form up the battle lines." He shook his head reluctantly, "We may have to wait until the next meeting. We won't have the votes for this one."
"I think we will," Kyle disagreed. "Assuming you go along, then we would also have Allana Sellers, Ryan Melland, Mike Kasperson and Abby Hawkins."
"Ryan can be questionable, but you can probably get him to go along," Ben nodded agreement. "But they'll have Grace, Paul, Julie, Robert, Craig, and Brad. That's a stalemate, we need a majority."
"Brad Keels won't be there," Kyle said.
Ben frowned, "Are you sure? He never misses our meetings."
"Brad Keels is dead," Jessi stated. "He's the one who tried to have me killed."
"What happened to him?" Ben asked, taken aback.
"He and his mercenaries had a falling out," Kyle said. "And then the National Security Force cleaned it all up."
"I'd heard the rumors about him working with mercenaries," Ben said. "He always had those strange sociological theories." He paused and asked, "Are you sure he's dead? I haven't heard anything about this at all."
"We picked the details up off of NSA traffic," Kyle said. "We can share them with you if you'd like."
"You can decode NSA traffic?" Ben asked, taken aback.
"They have the best data," Jessi said with a smile. "The Russian traffic confirmed it, but we don't trust that as much."
"Oh," Ben said, somewhat consternated. After a moment he continued thoughtfully, "Well, that changes everything, doesn't it?"
"Yes, it does," Kyle agreed.
"All, right," Ben nodded slowly, obviously evaluating the new situation. "We should be able to put you on the agenda after all. Do you want to share with me who you have documentation on?"
"I think we'd rather keep that to ourselves until the meeting, if you don't mind," Kyle said. He shrugged, "You probably know who it is, anyway."
Ben opened his mouth as if to object and then agreed, "That's fine. If someone tried to kill Jessi, I can understand why you're being so careful."
"We don't think any of the others are dangerous to that degree," Kyle said. "But we don't want to take any chances before the meeting."
"Agreed," Ben said. "I'll support you. The two of you should make sure that Allana, Mike, Ryan and Abby are prepared. Talk to them at the reception tomorrow. Especially Ryan, his heart's in the right place but he can be spooked. It'll be easier to get his vote if he knows he's going to be on the winning side."
"Craig Tamblyn seemed to be someone who liked to be on the winning side," Kyle said. "Should we talk to him?
"I don't think so," Ben shook his head. "He's been with the others too long. Maybe he'll change his mind when he sees the vote, but I doubt it." He looked out the window for a moment and then back at them. He said, "Adam would be proud of you for standing up to them." He smiled and looked at Jessi, "Sarah would be proud of you for stirring things up. She always liked to do that. I'm glad you're safe." He shook his head in wonder. "You two are amazing."
Chapter 17: Latnok Board Reception
Kyle and Jessi arrived at the Latnok board meeting location wearing their 'business' attire. Kyle was also carrying his briefcase. As they went in the door, they were greeted once again by Gabrielle, the tall, thin blonde woman who provided organizational support for Latnok.
Gabrielle said, "Good afternoon, Mr. Trager, Ms. Taylor. Would you like me to take you to the reception?"
Kyle smiled, "No, thank you, we remember the way." She nodded and they went down the corridor into the richly furnished room.
As we entered the Latnok reception we encountered a scene similar to the one we had found at our previous board meeting. Then we had barely known who the board members were. This time we had had dinner with many of them and had begun to know them well. I noticed a number of welcoming faces as well as guarded ones on those I thought of as the opposition. Brian Taylor had been right, building personal connections was important. It had prepared us for what we needed to do today.
Kyle commented to Jessi, "Obviously word is getting around. I suspect that Craig Tamblyn has briefed the other side." Jessi nodded.
When he saw them, Ben Crossgate excused himself from the conversation he was having with Allana Sellars and came over to them, a hint of anxiety on his face. He asked, "Are we still going ahead?"
Kyle assured him, "Yes we're ready." He hefted his briefcase slightly as a gesture.
Crossgate glanced down and nodded. "We have a while before the meeting starts. You should talk to Allana, Ryan, Mike and Abby."
"You didn't say anything to them?" Kyle asked.
"No, I wanted to make sure you were planning to go ahead," Crossgate said. "When the meeting starts, I'll announce the news that Keels is deceased and then introduce your information. We'll probably have a debate over dealing with it and then the floor will be yours."
"I understand," Kyle said. "That will be fine."
"Good luck to us all then," Crossgate said. "I'd better go mingle." He walked away to talk to Mike Kasperson.
Kyle turned to Jessi, "Would you like something to drink. They said they'd have orange juice for us."
"I think I'd like some orange juice," Jessi agreed. The two of them walked over to the bar.
The bartender said, "Mr. Trager, Ms. Taylor, orange juice? Or would you like something else?"
Jessi smiled, "Orange juice would be fine." He poured them two glasses of orange juice and they thanked him and walked away, sipping.
Kyle said, quietly, "Who first?"
Jessi nodded in the direction of Allana Sellars who was sitting by herself at one of the small conversational clusters with four chairs around a small table, "Allana looks like she's alone, let's talk to her."
They approached Allana and Kyle said, "May we sit with you?"
"Of course, Kyle," she said. They sat down and set their juice on the table.
Allana said to Jessi, "You really won Abby over, Jessi. After her dinner with the two of you, she was on the phone with me talking about ideas for a systems approach to disease management. I haven't seen her so excited since back in the days when we were grad students."
Jessi smiled, "We had a good conversation on the subject. There are some interesting possibilities to explore."
Kyle brought the subject to the matter at hand, "Allana, when we talked at dinner, we talked about remaking Latnok into the force for good it was built for."
"I remember," Allana nodded. "I almost felt like I was talking to Adam in the old days. It gave me hope again." She smiled, reminiscing.
"I said that there were those who were taking Latnok in dark directions and that we were going to document what they were doing," Kyle reminded her.
Allana nodded, "I remember. When I heard from Ben Crossgate that you took that item off the agenda, I have to admit I was disappointed."
"We're done," Kyle said, patting his briefcase.
Allana looked at it and then looked at Kyle a sense of excitement in her eyes. "Are you bringing it up today?"
"We intend to," Kyle nodded, "But we are probably going to need your help."
"How can I help?"
"Since we had Ben Crossgate take it off the agenda, we may have some trouble getting it back on," Kyle explained. "We'll need your help if it comes to a vote."
"Anything I can do, Kyle," Allana said.
"Good," Kyle nodded. "We're counting on you." He looked around the room then turned back to her, "We have several people we need to talk to before the meeting."
"Of course," Allana nodded. "Good luck."
They picked up their juice and stood up. Kyle indicated Mike Kasperson who was still talking to Ben Crossgate. Jessi nodded and they headed in his direction.
When they got to them, Ben Crossgate said to Mike, "We can talk more after the meeting; I think Kyle and Jessi have something they want to discuss." He nodded to them and went off to talk to someone else.
Mike was clearly enthusiastic, "We've gotten the first couple of 'quantum batteries' off of the pilot production facility. They are being tested but they look good. We got forty seven point two and forty seven point eight kilowatt hour capacities."
"That's better than our first one," Kyle admitted.
"We're still building production capacity, but we're starting to bring some interested parties in under non disclosure to look at it," Mike laughed. "It's making them pretty crazy. They all want exclusive rights."
"No one gets exclusive rights," Kyle insisted. "We want this to be broadly available. We will make plenty of money with a lot of customers."
"We're not going to be able to make enough of these for a long time," Mike warned.
Jessi said, "I may have some ways to speed up the construction. I have updates for the algorithm."
"Any improvements will help," Mike assured her. "The demand is going to be ... well demanding."
Kyle stepped closer, "There's something we need to talk about for this meeting. Jessi and I have finished our research into the concerns we talked about at the last meeting. We have the information with us and want to present it today. We may need your help bringing it up for discussion."
"I thought you had taken that off of the agenda," Mike frowned.
"That was because we had threats made against us. We decided we didn't want it known we were still investigating those people," Kyle said.
Mike nodded, "And you may need a vote to consider it. I'll vote for that. Do you think you can win? Grace and her group will be voting to 'study it' first, like they always do. They have six votes and can block us."
"Brad Keels won't be here," Kyle said. "They have five votes."
Mike raised his eyebrows, "Really, I thought he was just running late."
"He is late," Jessi said with a satisfied grin.
"That's very mysterious," Mike said. He looked at them for a moment then shrugged, "Well good luck, I'm with you."
They saw Abby Hawkins and Ryan Melland talking together and headed in their direction. When they got near the discussion, Ryan acknowledged them by saying, "Abby has been singing your praises, Jessi. She says that the two of you are going to revolutionize medicine."
Abby held up a hand, "We haven't actually done anything yet. I just said I had some interesting ideas after talking to her and am looking forward to spending some more time talking about them."
Jessi said, "I'd like to do that too."
Kyle said, "There's something that we need to talk to both of you about. As we've discussed, some of the board members are involved in some inappropriate activities." Both Abby and Ryan nodded, their expressions becoming more serious. Kyle continued, "Jessi and I have documented those activities in detail and want to present them at the meeting. There may be some resistance to bringing it up today. Can
we count on the two of you to support our request?"
Abby said, "Of course you can."
Ryan frowned, "Do we really have a chance of winning? They have six votes."
"Brad Keels will be missing the vote today," Kyle said.
"Really," Abby raised her eyebrows. "That's a rare event." She glanced from Kyle to Jessi with a thoughtful expression, then turned to Ryan and encouraged him, "They're counting on us, Ryan. We can't let them down."
Ryan nodded slowly, "All right, you have my vote too -- if it comes to that."
In another part of the room, Grace Kingsley had kept her eyes on them, watching them move around the room as she stood talking to Paul Milworth.
"I don't know what they're up to," Grace frowned with concern. "But something's going on."
"Grace, I think you're being a bit paranoid," Milworth smiled. "This is the reception, people are supposed to mingle. They know people this time. They've been having dinners with some of the members." He smiled thinly, "Somehow, I didn't get an invitation."
"There's more purpose to their movements than that," Grace disagreed. "I know them, they're planning something." She looked around, "Where's Keels? He never misses a meeting."
"I thought you weren't getting along with Brad," Milworth said.
"I just thought he was being hasty," Grace said. "We usually get along." She looked around again and her frown deepened, "If he isn't here, we could have trouble."
"Why?" Milworth asked.
"Because there are only five votes we can count on," Grace said.
Paul Milworth looked around as well, "I hadn't thought of that."
Near the door to the room, Been Crossgate raised his voice, "Ladies and Gentlemen, it's time for us to move to the boardroom and get the meeting underway."
The various members headed toward the door. Grace Kingley intercepted Kyle and Jessi and led them off to the side. "What are you two doing?" She glanced meaningfully at Kyle's briefcase.
"We were asked to do some research for the board as a result of our last meeting," Kyle said in a matter of fact tone. "We've completed it." He hefted the briefcase.
Grace said, anxiously, "I'm worried about you opening that subject, Kyle. Remember, I warned you that there were those who were considering an attack on Jessi if you did. It would be better to leave that subject alone for now." She appealed with a hint of desperation, "Please, for Jessi's safety, for both of your safety, just focus on your work at Madacorp."
"Brad Keels already sent a mercenary to kill Jessi," Kyle said, flatly. "We dealt with him."
Grace looked shocked but recovered, "But that won't stop Keels from trying again. He's very tenacious."
"We dealt with him, too," Jessi showed Grace the grim expression Cassidy had seen when she was threatening him in the Rack. "He's dead."
Grace paled and stared at Jessi in consternation.
Kyle said, "Grace, we have to go into the meeting now." He and Jessi left the room, leaving her standing behind, staring after them.
Chapter 18: Latnok Board Meeting
Once again, Kyle and Jessi along with the other Latnok board members entered the austere round room that was Latnok's traditional board meeting room. At the center was the round table with its spotlights at the twelve seats. Kyle sat in the seat assigned to him and Jessi, the one that had originally been Adam Baylin's. Jessi sat behind him in the chair that was waiting for her. The other Latnok members took their seats leaving only Brad Keels' seat, to the immediate left of Kyle, empty.
This would have been Jessi's turn to sit at the table but because of the role we intended to play, Jessi felt that I would be better at dealing with the Latnok board. As I looked around the table at the board members settling into their seats for the meeting, I no longer saw a group of unknown people but some friends, some foes, and a couple of people who didn't necessarily fit into either category. We had come to our first meeting wanting to know what Latnok was. Now we knew and we came to this meeting to change it.
Ben Crossgate began, "Once again I want to thank everyone for attending and would like to call this meeting to order. I want to start by relaying some information that has just come to me that explains Brad Keels' absence." He gestured in the direction of the empty chair. "The details are still incomplete, but apparently Mr. Keels was involved in the unrest in North Africa that has been occupying the news lately." He took a breath and then continued, "In the collapse of the insurgency, Mr. Keels was killed." He paused to let the news sink in, "It's not clear by which side, but his body has been recovered, and the identification appears positive. I hope to get more details in the coming days."
This announcement generated almost universal surprise and, in some people, dismay. Grace looked at Kyle and behind him to Jessi obviously trying to link this information to what they had said to her as they left the reception. She clearly appeared disturbed.
Crossgate continued, "There is another item not on the agenda. At the last meeting Kyle stated that he and Jessi had found signs that some members of this organization were involved in activities that were, to quote Kyle, 'not in keeping with Adam's vision'. One of the things they mentioned was funding of mercenary activities. The news about Brad Keels makes their observations even more relevant. They had not expected to be ready for today's meeting but they have finished their work and have a number of issues that they feel the board should address on a priority basis." He looked around the table and said, "I think this matter is sufficiently urgent to take it up outside the normal process."
Robert Lukeson said, "If Kyle has research that concerns this board it would be much better if we all had the documentation to study prior to discussing it at a meeting. It seems unreasonable to ask us to act on some information we are hearing for the first time." He gestured with an open hand and continued, "Presumably there would be some action contemplated, otherwise it could simply be sent around as background material."
Abby Hawkins said, "This is important. I think we need to deal with it right away." She gestured at Keels' empty seat and added, "There is objective evidence that at least some of what they were talking about impacts this board."
Grace looked at Kyle once more then set her jaw, "Abby, I know you feel strongly about this." She looked around the room and added, "And I do too. But we will do our best work if we have time to think about what they've found and do our own research as well."
Robert Lukeson said, "We're all shocked by the apparent news that Brad is dead. We should not get caught up in a sense of emergency and bypass procedures that have been working for us for years. This board should act only after appropriate study has been completed."
Allana shook her head, "This is too important to put off 'for further study'. I think we should at least hear what they've found. We can decide if immediate action is appropriate or not once we know the details." She looked at Ben Crossgate, "I move that we hear Kyle's report now and take any action the board feels appropriate."
Ben Crossgate looked around the table and pointed to Mike Kasperson, who had his hand up.
"Allana's right," Mike said. "I've been working closely with Kyle and Jessi and I have a growing confidence in what they can do. I definitely want to hear anything they have to say to this board. I second the motion."
Ben Crossgate said, "We have a motion and a second. All in favor?"
Kyle, Allana, Abby, Mike and Ben raised their hands and, a half beat later, Ryan did as well. Ben Crossgate said, "The motion carries. Kyle?"
Kyle took a breath while he looked around the table, "One of the reasons that Jessi and I joined this organization is because of how much it was involved in our lives. As I said to Abby the other day," he nodded to her, "in a way we are your children. The experiment that created us was part of Latnok's vision. Adam Baylin has told me that you were scientists, humanitarians, great visionaries." He leaned forward for emphasis, "but you kidnapped my prom date, Jessi was poorly treated and used, and there have been other threats."
"That gave us a much more sinister vision than Adam's. We wanted to know which vision of Latnok was true. So when the package of information for our first board meeting came to us we began analyzing it. We've dug deeply, followed financial linkages looked at thousands of public records and used a wide variety of other research means to find the truth. And what we've found is that both visions are true. We've found scientists, humanitarians and visionaries. We've also found members sponsoring violence, developing weapons of mass destruction, and quite a bit of embezzlement and misuse of funds as well as violations of numerous laws." He paused for a moment and then told them, "Recently there was a nearly successful attempt on Jessi's life."
There were expressions of shock around the table.
He looked around the table and announced firmly, "It's time for all that to end."
He turned and nodded to Jessi who opened the brief case and handed him a stack of file folders. He turned back to the table, "We found quite a bit of information linking Brad Keels to a wide variety of activities, including sponsoring war and the use of weapons of mass destruction on innocent civilians. He has thousands of lives to answer for." Kyle gestured to the empty seat next to him, "And, he's answered for them to a higher authority than this board."
He rested his hands on the pile of folders and turned to Paul Milworth. "Mr. Milworth, we have documentation of your financial arrangements. You have diverted funds to support your research into the creation of pathogens, building weapons of mass destruction."
Milworth bristled, "I am a scientist. That's a perfectly valid research subject. I may have had to be creative about financing, but it's a valid area of study."
Kyle shook his head, "You were the source of the weaponized Anthrax that Brad Keels recently used to kill over four thousand people. Your weapons of mass destruction were not just used for research but to kill women and children. And that wasn't the first time you exported biological weapons. You've sold them to a number of governments as well."
Kyle looked around the table at the various members then started passing out the file folders. "We have full documentation so that you can see what we've discovered."
I took them step by step through all of the items that Jessi and I had discovered about Paul Milworth. The money he had stolen, the laws he had broken. We showed the various biological weapons he had created and sold as well as the most recent Anthrax he had made and what Brad Keels had done with it. There was shock and revulsion from many members, including Craig Tamblyn and, I noted, Julie Fairburn. I answered their questions and dealt with Paul Milworth's defenses. It was a long discussion but, eventually it came to an end. They had been suspicious of many of these things, but the proof, in black in white, of years of unethical, illegal and immoral acts was daunting to all of them, even Paul Milworth, himself. No one believes themselves to be a villain; he had made excuses for each of these actions one at a time and set them out of his mind. Now they were all in front of him, and in front of the board.
Ben Crossgate said, "This is far beyond my worse fears. You've made a very convincing argument, with excellent documentation, Kyle." He looked around the table and said, "What's the appropriate action for us?"
Abby Hawkins said, "Obviously he cannot remain on this board or in our organization. I don't think we can do more than that, we certainly should not do less."
Milworth objected, "I should have more time to prepare a defense, you can't pass judgment on me without giving me a chance to defend myself. I need to be able to cross examine witnesses, challenge documents."
Mike Kasperson shook his head, "This isn't a court, Paul. We're an organizational board. Our only obligation is to assess the information we are given and make a decision that we feel is in the best interest of the organization." He shrugged, "You may have to answer to a court for some of your actions, but this is not that court."
Robert Lukeson said, "I still think that Paul should have a chance to make a case. We are under no legal obligation, but we've been together for almost twenty years. We owe him a chance to explain himself. I warned that we shouldn't let a sense of emergency stampede us. There's plenty of time to look into this further."
Abby Hawkins pounded the table loudly, "We've ignored these things for almost twenty years." She looked around and continued, "Admit it, we all knew this type of thing was happening but no one had the ability or the courage to uncover it." She looked at Kyle, "Thank you, Kyle." The force of her speech brought the table to a momentary silence.
Into the silence, Allana Sellars quietly said, "Ben, I move that we terminate Paul Milworth's membership on this board and the greater Latnok organization immediately."
"I second it," Abby Hawkins said, immediately.
"I think this is premature," Grace objected. "We need to be more deliberate. I don't think it's time for motions yet."
"Grace, we have a motion and a second," Ben pointed out. "I think I need to poll the board. If you," he glanced around the table, "or anyone, thinks more study is called for, vote against the motion." He took a breath and let it out slowly, "The motion is to terminate Paul Milworth's membership on this board and the Latnok organization. All in favor?"
Abby, Allana, Mike, Kyle, and Ben raised their hands, once again followed a moment later by Ryan. Then, slowly Julie Fairburn and Craig Tamblyn raised their hands as well.
Ben Crossgate nodded, "The motion is carried." He looked at Paul Milworth, "Mr. Milworth, effective immediately you are removed from the Latnok board and the Latnok organization. All accounts and security accesses will be terminated. Please leave your ring behind as you leave."
Paul Milworth looked around the table. He finally looked at Julie Fairburn, the blonde woman next to him and said, "I'm sorry."
"Paul," She said coldly, "children?"
He took the ring off of his finger and set it on top of the closed file folder in front of him. Then he stood up and, without looking at anyone else, left the room.
There was a silence in the room as they watched him leave. Finally Ben Crossgate cleared his throat, "Kyle, you still have the floor."
Kyle nodded and turned to Jessi who handed him another pile of file folders. He placed them in front of him. He put his hands on them and turned to Robert Lukeson.
"Robert Lukeson," he said. "You have developed a number of increasingly sophisticated autonomous weapons systems. I'm certain Adam Baylin would not have approved of that."
Lukeson said, "That's a legitimate area for research. The United States military is increasingly using autonomous weapons systems."
"That's true," Kyle nodded. "However it's highly illegal to sell them to foreign nations, which you have done, including Iran and North Korea." He tapped the folders in front of him and added, "Of course there are many financial improprieties and other misuses of your position that we have documented as well." Kyle passed the folders out to the board and they opened them and started reading.
Once again I took them through all the items that Jessi and I had discovered about Robert Lukeson. We showed his involvement in the illicit trade in sophisticated weaponry, his diversion of funds, stock manipulation, and bribery. There were even cases of him sending unusual arms to Brad Keels for testing in his operations. The barrier had been broken and they were more willing to look at things they had ignored for years. There was more determination to deal with him. Eventually, we came to an end to that discussion as well.
Ben Crossgate said, "Mr. Lukeson's transgressions are not as severe as Paul Milworth's, but I still find them very disturbing. Does anyone have any comments?"
Abby Hawkins said, "They're severe enough. Kyle is right. We should be scientists, humanitarians, visionaries. That's what Adam brought us together to be. There's no place for people in this organization who do things like this." She pointed firmly at her folder. I move that we terminate Robert Lukeson's membership on this board and in Latnok."
Grace Kingsley said with a sense of desperation, "I think we may be rushing, we're making serious changes to an organization that has lasted twenty years. We need to slow down and be more deliberate."
Allana Sellars looked at her, "Grace, we're years too long in doing this. It's time to be what we're supposed to be. You've forgotten why Adam brought us together." She shook her head sadly, "You used to believe in what we stood for," she looked at Ben Crossgate and nodded, "I second the motion."
Ben Crossgate took a deep breath and announced, "The motion is to terminate Robert Lukeson's membership on the board and in Latnok. All in favor?"
Everyone's hand went up except Robert's and Grace's.
Ben Crossgate nodded, "The motion is carried." He looked at Robert Lukeson and said, "Mr. Lukeson, effective immediately you are also no longer a member of the Latnok board and the Latnok organization. All accounts and security accesses will be terminated. Please leave your ring as you leave as well."
Robert Lukeson glared at Kyle, then took his ring off and set it on the folder in front of him and left the room.
The board members watched him leave. They seemed both dazed and exhilarated. Ben Crossgate turned back to Kyle, "Kyle, you still have the floor."
Kyle turned to Jessi and she handed him another pile of folders. He set them in front of him and looked across the table at Grace Kingsley. They locked eyes for a long moment. He broke the silence, "Grace, do I have to?"
Grace looked down at the pile of folders in front of him for a long moment then met his eyes again. She shook her head and sighed, "No, Kyle." She looked around the table and announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to tender my resignation from this board and Latnok effective immediately." There was glint of tears in her eyes as she took her ring off and set it on the table. She looked back at Kyle and said, quietly, "Thank you." Then she rose from her chair and left the room.
Ben Crossgate turned back to Kyle and said in a hopeful voice, "Kyle?"
Kyle looked around at the remaining members, "That's all we have, I'm sorry it's been so difficult for everyone. I know it's hard for you to have to deal with people who were your friends." He handed Grace's pile of folders back to Jessi who put them back in the briefcase.
Ben Crossgate said, "This has been a difficult meeting for all of us. I believe we have nothing on the agenda that requires action today. Without objection I will defer the published agenda items for the next meeting?" He looked around and no one objected. "All right," he continued, "we will defer the agenda." He took a breath, "It appears we have a number of openings on the board. The only reason that Kyle and Jessi are sharing a seat is because we were at our maximum. We no longer are. I would like to make a motion that we offer one of the vacant seats to Jessi Taylor." He looked around the table. A number of hands came up. He smiled and pointed to Kyle.
Kyle smiled, "I second the motion."
Ben Crossgate said, "All in favor?" Everyone was. He smiled, "Jessi, why don't you join us."
Jessi got up and sat next to Kyle in the seat that had formerly been Brad Keels. She and Kyle exchanged smiles and then he reached over and took her hand.
Crossgate smiled, "If I might be permitted a further indulgence." He looked around at everyone, "Originally this board was permanently chaired by Adam Baylin." He gestured in the direction of the seat Kyle was sitting in. "When Adam left us we decided to periodically rotate the chair. I think by today's actions Kyle has demonstrated his leadership of this organization. It's time for him to assume the rest of the duties that come along with that chair. I move that the board elect Kyle Trager as our permanent chair. Do I have a second?" Everyone's hand except Kyle's went up. Crossgate pointed at Jessi.
Jessi smiled proudly, "I second it."
Crossgate said, "All in favor?" Kyle discreetly kept his hand down keeping the vote from being unanimous. Crossgate looked at Kyle, "Mr. Chairman?"
Kyle took a breath, "Does anyone have anything else?" The exhausted members looked at him in silence. He looked back at them and said, "Almost twenty years ago Adam Baylin with the help of Sarah Emerson founded this organization. He built a fellowship of scientists, visionaries and humanitarians. Today we have had to break that fellowship. Those of us who remain must dedicate ourselves once more to Adam's vision. We must be scientists, visionaries and most of all humanitarians. We have great abilities, great resources, we can make a difference in the world. We've dealt with a number of crimes today, but the worse crime of all was to forget what we are here for. We must never do that again." He paused a moment and then added, "Meeting adjourned."
The Latnok board members, their friends, gathered around and congratulated him and Jessi. Ben Crossgate said, "I'll go with you to talk to Gabrielle and make her aware of the changes. She's really the organizational backbone of Latnok. I'll be glad to help you with the transition."
Kyle made a point of approaching Julie Fairburn, who had hung back, watching them from the back of the room. He said, "Jessi and I haven't had a chance to talk to you. Perhaps you'd be willing to have dinner with us some time? We know a nice restaurant."
"So I've heard," she said with a hesitant smile. "I'll be looking forward to it."
The board members filed out leaving them with Ben Crossgate. He said triumphantly, "You did it. No one else could, not even Adam." He indicated the door, "Are you coming?"
"Give us a minute," Kyle said. Ben nodded and left the room.
Kyle took Jessi in his arms and kissed her. "You were right," he said. "We are Latnok."
As we walked out the door of the Latnok boardroom, our boardroom, I contemplated the fact that this was the fourth time we had been in this room. The first time had been when Jessi had carried Amanda out of that door while I stood behind to block what turned out to be a rubber bullet. Today I walked out as the chairman of Latnok. And Jessi walked beside me.
Chapter 19: Dark Latnok
Grace sat at the table with Robert Lukeson and Paul Milworth. They had met at their usual post board meeting restaurant with its wood paneling, and art deco lights shining on the warm mustard color walls and ceiling. The mood at the table was anything but warm.
Milworth was angry, "You told us that you were handling this, Grace. You said you had everything under control. Now Brad is dead and we've all been thrown out." He looked at the white spot on his finger where his ring had always been.
"Twenty years," Lukeson said, shaking his head in disbelief. "Twenty years of my life and they just threw me out."
"Keels triggered it all," Grace said. "He tried to kill Jessi -- and failed."
"That was originally your idea," Lukeson accused her. "You proposed it."
"I proposed it as the least desirable option," Grace objected. "I said that the risk was that if it failed it would drive them to react. He assured me that his experts wouldn't fail. He screwed it up and here we are."
"You can't blame this on Brad," Milworth said. "They were going to come after us anyway. They said so at the last meeting. You thought you could control them. You just got out maneuvered." He shook his head and added, "I thought you were the one who was good at politics."
"Maybe I did," Grace sighed. "I kept thinking of them as Adam and Sarah, but they aren't. They're much more than that. Their ability to gather data is phenomenal. I'm not sure what we could have done differently."
"So what do we do now?" Milworth asked.
"We regroup," Lukeson said simply. "Even cut off from Latnok, we still have assets, far greater assets than we had when Latnok was starting. We still have powerful connections. We can work together the same way we've been doing for years -- without Brad, of course."
"Will they let us?" Milworth asked, looking at Grace.
"I don't know," Grace shrugged then elaborated, "Their focus is on what Latnok is and does. They want to renew Adam Baylin's creation. We aren't part of Latnok any longer. I don't know if they'll continue to oppose us now that they have all of Latnok to play with."
"Let's say they don't," Milworth suggested. "Bob is right. We've lost access to a lot of capital. But we aren't starving grad students anymore. We've built operations that are separate from Latnok. Really, we've always been just the four of us, Julie and Craig supported us with the board, but they always did their own things. We've lost Brad but the three of us are left."
"On the positive side," Lukeson nodded, "we won't have to work around the Latnok board anymore. We just do what we need to do without wrapping it in excuses."
"All right," Grace nodded, thinking out loud, "say we decide to continue to work together. What's the next step?"
Milworth shrugged, "We were part of a larger organization. We've lost access to quite a few resources. I think we each need to assess what we still have and what we need to replace. Then we see what we can do to help each other fill in the gaps."
"That makes sense," Lukeson agreed. "The second million is always easier to get than the first." He smiled, "And we're starting with quite a few million in assets."
"So, do we have a name for this new group?" Grace asked.
Milworth said with a hint of sarcasm, "I don't think we need Hungarian names and secret decoder rings, Grace. It's just the three of us now."
"That's true," Grace agreed. "So how soon do we meet again?"
"I would suggest we go slowly, unless someone needs emergency assistance to keep an asset from going under," Milworth said, "perhaps in a month?"
"That's good with me," Lukeson nodded. "I don't think I have anything at immediate risk." He added bleakly, "At least anything that's still left."
"I've been closing things down because I expected trouble," Grace said. "I'll be good for a month."
They shook hands and left the restaurant. As Grace approached her car, she got out her cell phone and called a number. When the call was answered, she said, "Michael, It's all gone to hell here. Keels is dead. Somehow Kyle and Jessi arranged that. Robert Lukeson, Paul Milworth and I have been thrown out of Latnok." She paused while he digested that then added, "They're probably coming for you next."
She listened for a moment and said, "I know you told me that she was dangerous. 'I told you so' isn't going to help now. I think it's time for you to get away from Cambridge and go into the hiding place you arranged for this contingency. Climb into that hole and pull it in after yourself. Tell your contact he needs to forget the girl and get out of UDub. You don't want to leave clues around for them to find. They are very good at following clues."
She listened to his response and replied, "Milworth, Lukeson and I are going to try to pull our assets together and see if we can regain some of what we've lost. But I want to firewall you and your project from us. We shouldn't speak for a while. You need to completely disappear."
After Cassidy's response she said, "She has a good reason to be after you. She doesn't seem the forgiving type. Be careful." She hung up the phone, got in her car and drove away.